Quantum technologies

The future is now

Web special of the cover story of Fraunhofer magazine 4.2019

Welcome to the world of quanta, where nothing seems logical, but everything appears possible. A new era is dawning with quantum technologies helping us to better understand and order our world. Fraunhofer is bringing science to applications.


Quantum mechanics is slippery, defying intuitive grasp. Albert Einstein called it “spooky.” He was born in 1879. Yet here it is in the here and now, a ghost knocking at the door of everyday reality. In a rare consensus, experts agree that quantum technology is poised to change the world. Take the field of medicine: Quantum sensors could shed new light on brain functions. Quantum imaging could revolutionize diagnostic procedures. Quantum computers could yield new insights into molecular chemistry to fast-track drug discovery and slash their production costs.

The mind boggles at the potential of applied quantum mechanics. Who knows where this technology will take us? Will we be able to better protect the climate with the means to measure and predict climate change far more accurately? What marvelous products might emerge once we are able to develop and test materials faster and at lower cost? Will gridlocks be but a bygone annoyance once quantum computers send every traveler down the best path? And will quantum technology help create a secure and sovereign digital infrastructure for business and private citizens?

Expectations are high; investments are soaring. The German federal government has earmarked 650 million euros for research into quantum technologies until 2021. And the EU’s Quantum Flagship initiative has a budget of one billion euros for European research over the coming ten years. Fraunhofer and IBM will be bringing the world’s first commercial quantum computer to Europe to serve as an open research platform. They aim to ramp it up in Germany by late 2021. Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, president of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, expects it to give a “decisive boost for German research and companies of all sizes” with “full data sovereignty based on European law.”

Video: The Quantum World


Quantum computing

On September 10, 2019, IBM and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe’s leading applied research organisation, announced a partnership agreement set to deliver major advances in quantum computing research in Germany. The objective is to boost the development of skills and strategies relating to commercial and application-oriented quantum computing.


Quantum communication

Digital sovereignty and data security are essential for a well-functioning digital society. Quantum communication takes security to a whole new level. Researchers are currently developing quantum-based cryptographic procedures which will in future make it impossible to eavesdrop on transmitted data.


Quantum imaging

Quantum imaging will have far-reaching effects in all areas of optics. It will eliminate existing blind spots in fields as diverse as medical imaging and diagnostics, security technology and autonomous mobility.

Quantum AI

The race to develop quantum AI

Quantum computing is expected to be the springboard for a huge leap forward in artificial intelligence (AI). A new interdisciplinary research field called quantum machine learning (QML) has emerged at the intersection of these two key technologies.


Quantum sensors

Quantum sensors: new opportunities for medical technology

Photons are one, but not the only, way of taking measure of the quantum world. Electrons are another. A research team at Fraunhofer IAF is using these tiny particles to develop ultra-precise quantum sensors.


Interview with Professor Tünnermann, Fraunhofer IOF

“Germany is at a very good vantage point”

One of the leading minds in the field of quantum technologies at Fraunhofer, Prof. Andreas Tünnermann heads up the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF at Jena.

Fraunhofer lighthouse projects and initiatives on quantum technology

Fraunhofer lighthouse project

QMag – Quantum magnetometry

Fraunhofer’s IAF, IPM and IWM Institutes, all based in Freiburg, are aiming to bring quantum magnetometry out of the research lab to deliver real commercial applications. In close collaboration with the Fraunhofer IMM and IISB Institutes and the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Photonics (CAP), the research team is developing highly integrated imaging quantum magnetometers with extremely high spatial resolution and optimum sensitivity.

QuNET – Interception-proof quantum communication

As part of the BMBF-funded QuNET initiative, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Max Planck Society and German Aerospace Center will set up a pilot quantum communication network in Germany. This network will allow eavesdropping-proof, tamper-proof data transfer.


Key Strategic Initiative quantum technology

Welcome to the quantum world

Welcome to the quantum world

Quantum physics is not something most of us encounter in our daily lives. Everything we can experience first hand – the big stuff of our macroscopic world – obeys the laws of conventional physics. Sub-atomic particles defy these familiar principles. The laws of quantum physics rule on the atomic scale, where strange things happen. This is a world where elementary particles, atoms or even molecules can behave like particles or like waves. They can even exist in several states at once. Two particles can become entangled, so that one always possesses the complementary information on its twin, irrespective of the latter’s location. This uncertainty about a particle’s actual state goes to the heart of quantum physics. Rather than being in one state or changing between a variety of states, particles exist across several possible states at the same time in what is called a superposition. Nothing is fixed and anything is possible, so we are dealing with probabilities here – or, more precisely, with probability waves. We cannot know the exact position or state of a particle until we observe or measure it, which destroys the quantum state.

Wave-particle duality


Elementary particles such as photons or electrons, and even atoms and molecules sometimes behave like a wave, at others like a particle. A conventional particle can only occupy one position, but a wave propagates in space and can overlap other waves.

The quantum tunnel effect


The wave-like properties of particles allow them to move through energy barriers as if passing through walls. Humans consist of particles, so the theoretical probability of each particle in the human body possessing the ability to cross the rectangular potential barriers of a wall is greater than zero. Be warned, though: Attempts to demonstrate this ability could prove painful.

Schrödinger’s cat

Schrödingers Katze

Perhaps the most famous thought experiment for explaining quantum physics involves a cat and a flask of poison gas. The two are placed in a box containing a radioactive source and a mechanism that breaks the flask when it detects a radioactive particle. The probability that the poison gas will be released is given at any moment. The process of radioactive decay is an ideal randomizer for determining this moment in time. In other words, without any interaction with the outside world, Schrödinger’s “quantum” cat is in a state of superposition, entangled with the state of a radioactive particle. The cat is therefore both dead and alive its state remaining indeterminate until someone opens the lid to a look inside the box.

Quantum entanglement

Einstein once described this effect as “spooky action at a distance.” The properties of entangled particles are always complementary. And, although they may be light-years apart, they are inseparably linked to one another. If, for example, a state of vertical polarization is observed in one of a pair of photons, then the other must be horizontally polarized. And this despite the fact that its state has not been previously ascertained and no signal has been exchanged between the two particles.

Timeline: The history of quantum physics


The dawn of quantum physics – Max Planck postulates quantum theory: light consists of tiny, discrete packets of energy known as quanta


Niels Bohr first formulates a quantized model of the atom


Albert Einstein postulates the general theory of relativity and posits the existence of photons as particles


Louis-Victor de Broglie postulates wave-particle duality


Erwin Schrödinger describes matter waves as probability waves and postulates the Schrödinger equation, one of the fundamental equations of quantum mechanics


Werner Heisenberg formulates the uncertainty principle: the position and momentum of an electron cannot be determined simultaneously


The thought experiment Schrödinger’s cat


Otto Hahn discovers nuclear fission; the first atomic bomb soon follows


European countries establish CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) to investigate subatomic particles

From the 1950s

Scientists put macroscopic quantum systems to practical use, ushering in the first quantum revolution


The first microwave


The first microchip


The first laser


John Bell formulates Bell’s theorem: there are no local parameters determining the behavior of a quantum system


The double-slit experiment with single electrons demonstrates the theory of wave-particle duality


Experiments by Alain Aspect prove the hypothesis of quantum entanglement

From the 1990s

Scientists manipulate individual quanta, sparking the second quantum revolution


Prof. Anton Zeilinger of Innsbruck University demonstrates quantum teleportation

In the 1990s

The first experimental quantum computers with 3, 5 and 7 qubits emerge


Error-free data transfer via teleportation establishes the basis for a quantum Internet


China launches Micius, the first quantum communications satellite, for research purposes


China builds the world’s first quantum communications link


The EU Quantum Flagship provides one billion euros for research.
The Fraunhofer lighthouse project QUILT gets underway


IBM unveils Q System One, the world’s first commercial quantum computer.

Fraunhofer, Max Planck and DLR launch the QuNet initiative.

Fraunhofer kicks off the QMAG lighthouse project.

Fraunhofer and IBM announce plans to bring the first quantum computer to Europe

Five sectors destined to be changed by quantum technology

Medicine and healthcare

Deeper insights into biological processes, more efficient drug discovery, more powerful diagnostics

Logistics and transport

Optimized route planning, more informed decisions about the best locations for logistics centers and the like, better power grid management


Enhanced portfolio management, risk analysis and fraud detection and prediction; secure communications and data transfer for online banking and the like

Material sciences

Simulation of unprecedented materials at the molecular level, faster development of materials, more precise testing methods

IT and security

More powerful computers for previously unsolvable problems, encrypted communications networks