Finland opens up quantum computing for research purposes – merging quantum computing and supercomputing enables completely new science

VTT’s HELMI (“Pearl”) quantum computer was connected to the pan-European supercomputer LUMI (“Snow”), hosted by CSC – IT Center for Science. The connection to the most powerful classical supercomputer in Europe makes the best use of the computing power of the quantum computer. This is the first time in Europe that this type of hybrid service linking a supercomputer and a general purpose quantum computer is open to researchers.

The first Finnish quantum computer HELMI in the Joint National Research Infrastructure of VTT and Aalto University in Micronova, Espoo. Image credit: MTB

Quantum computers, although potentially extremely powerful for certain tasks, need to be supervised by traditional classical computers. Finland is one of the few countries in the world to have connected a quantum computer and a supercomputer. Finland’s first quantum computer, the 5-qubit HELMI hosted by VTT Technical Research Center of Finland became operational in 2021. The LUMI supercomputer, hosted by CSC in Europe’s greenest HPC facility, also began its operations in 2021.

The successful connection of HELMI and LUMI paves the way for a future where quantum computers and traditional high-performance computers work together, solving the toughest problems that neither can solve alone. The integration of HELMI with LUMI enables hybrid computing projects and stimulates the development of required quantum algorithms and software. From there, an understanding of the potential of this technology to solve real-world use cases will emerge.

VTT wants to do applied research using the quantum computer and learn more about these possibilities. We see great potential in quantum computing to accelerate innovation for the benefit of businesses and society as a whole. We will continue to build larger and more powerful quantum computers, which will also become available to users through the same gateway.explains Pekka Pursula, head of research at VTT.

LUMI is now the most powerful quantum supercomputing infrastructure in the world, in addition to being a leading platform for artificial intelligence. This means that we have all the drivers of the future of computing perfectly integrated and ready to use.notes Pekka Manninen, director of LUMI.

While supercomputers are extremely powerful on their own, certain types of problems can only be solved faster, more accurately, or using less energy when partially solved on quantum computers. These issues include the development of new products and materials, for example in the pharmaceutical, chemical and battery industries. Quantum machine learning will take artificial intelligence to new heights. With the combined computing power, machine learning applications to generate new molecular structures based on existing molecular data could be faster and more accurate, dramatically accelerating the process of designing new materials. Optimizing supply chains, travel routes and portfolio management is also high on the list of future applications with a so-called quantum advantage, where quantum-accelerated high-performance computing exceeds the capacity of only conventional supercomputers.

Some of the first concrete benefits can be expected in areas where high accuracy and quality of computational predictions are crucial, but the time required to find the answer is limited. A potential future application is in short-term weather forecasting, where it is important to quickly and accurately predict, for example, thunderstorms, hurricane paths and the spread of tsunamis. This is related to real-time analysis of Earth observation data from satellites. In the long term, high-quality image processing could, for example, detect an incipient forest fire before it spreads out of control. In the financial industry, greater accuracy in algorithmic trading naturally comes with instant reward.

Quantum algorithms at the fingertips of researchers

The connection was established in cooperation between the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland, CSC, and Aalto University, as part of the Finnish quantum computing infrastructure FiQCI. Now, through an open call, pilot access to the infrastructure will be granted to users from Finnish universities and research organisations. This allows researchers to try and experiment with quantum computing for various uses.

Quantum computers are in many ways strange and unfamiliar, and it will be exciting to see how our customers end up using them. New technologies tend to find uses in areas that no one had thought of before!”, comments Mikael Johansson, quantum strategist at CSC.

Real quantum computers behave rather unpredictably, it is in fact in their very nature. This is why completely new problem-solving algorithms and approaches must be developed. The direct availability of quantum computing gives users the ability to experience and adapt to the new computing paradigm. This is critically important to prepare for the coming quantum revolution in scientific computing.

With this initiative, we are creating the basis for a future large-scale quantum computing infrastructure in Finland. The first generation of quantum computers will be very useful for training researchers and students in quantum algorithms and computing, and related technologies“says Tapio Ala-Nissila, professor of physics at Aalto.

After the academic pilot, the goal is to open the connection to a wider audience. The newly established connection provides valuable insight into the possibilities of quantum computing, as well as practical know-how on how to use the new technology effectively.

The Finnish quantum computing infrastructure, supported by the Academy of Finland and NextGenerationEU, is a central part of the vibrant quantum technology ecosystem in Finland. FiQCI aims to provide true quantum acceleration of research and development. The connection between HELMI and LUMI is the first major step on this road. A 20-qubit quantum computer is currently under development at VTT, with a 50-qubit upgrade planned for 2024. Beyond that point, the complexity of quantum computers exceeds the modeling capability of even the largest supercomputers, marking the beginning of a new era of science. VTT, CSC and Aalto University are also seeking global strategic partnerships to rapidly usher in the quantum era.


Sherry J. Basler