Apply for grants

The Novo Nordisk Foundation awards DKK 108 million for developing new quantum technology

Developing and using quantum simulators to advance our understanding of complex biological processes and biomolecules and helping us predict how they behave: this is the goal for two new research centres for which the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a total of DKK 108.6 million. The grant recipients are Peter Lodahl and Matthias Christandl, who will lead the development of the quantum simulators.

Quantum technologies have significant advantages over classical technologies in seeking new understanding of complex systems. The greatly increased computing capacity plays a special role.

Quantum simulation is a subgroup of the new quantum technologies that simulates complex quantum mechanical systems using known and controllable quantum mechanical hardware. An example could be simulating how proteins behave in a biological membrane. Quantum simulators are therefore expected to be able to significantly contribute to solving complex and important problems in biology, chemistry and medicine that cannot currently be solved using today’s classical computers.

To realize the great potential of quantum simulation within the life sciences, the Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded grants totalling DKK 108.6 million for two research centres that aim to develop and use quantum simulators to discover new and important knowledge about complex biological processes and biomolecules. The Foundation has awarded the grants through its 2020 Challenge Programme.

Quantum simulation of complex biological processes and biomolecules

Peter Lodahl, Professor, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen will lead the centre called Solid-state Quantum Simulators for Biochemistry (Solid-Q). The project is based on using and integrating two types of quantum simulation hardware to perform quantum mechanical calculations related to complex biomolecules.

“Our starting-point is new quantum hardware, which we have developed through decades of dedicated basic research. Today, these quantum building blocks are good enough that we can scale up and address complex chemical problems. This requires an interdisciplinary team, and we are very pleased to gather leading research groups in Denmark in Solid-Q. We hope to be able to design and fabricate quantum simulators that will help us to understand and optimize protein-folding problems or energy transport in photosynthesis, which will open new perspectives for developing drugs or energy-efficient materials. I am very grateful that the Novo Nordisk Foundation has decided to invest heavily in this field, which hopefully in the long term will also lead to new business opportunities in Denmark,” says Peter Lodahl, who is receiving DKK 60 million for his research.

Matthias Christandl, Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Copenhagen will lead the second centre, called Quantum for Life. The project aims to develop algorithmic strategies for the quantum simulation of biomolecules and thus enable the researchers to study, for example, long-range electron interactions. To achieve this, the research team will simultaneously develop an experimental quantum simulator platform comprising levitating atoms over a two-dimensional dielectric membrane.

“Electron interactions are crucial in biochemical processes in drug design, such as docking two molecules. Since the interaction is quantum mechanical, it is very difficult to calculate with today’s classical computers and even supercomputers. Quantum computers, in contrast, are naturally suited to tackle such problems. Quantum for Life will develop and use tailor-made quantum algorithms, providing an opportunity to open a new chapter in the computational life sciences in Denmark. With the new centre, I am pleased that the quantum mathematics we are developing can be used to solve important problems related to fundamental biological processes,” says Matthias Christandl, who is receiving DKK 48.6 million for his research.

The projects are interdisciplinary, and the research consortia that comprise the centres involve physicists, mathematicians, chemists and biologists. This diverse expertise is needed to fulfil the ambition of developing high-quality quantum simulators that will provide increased insight into the life sciences.

“Quantum technologies have enormous potential in the life sciences. However, realizing this potential requires an interdisciplinary approach at the highest level both in physics and mathematics and in chemistry and biology. Denmark has a historical leadership position in both quantum technologies and the life sciences, so it is logical to integrate the expertise in both fields to tackle this challenge. The two projects are very ambitious, and we hope that they will produce results that can be the new gold standard for knowledge that can be elucidated using quantum technologies within biology, chemistry and medicine,” says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural & Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme was established in 2014. Since then, the Foundation has awarded more than DKK 100 million every year for ambitious research projects that focus on global challenges based on annually selected research themes. The Foundation has just opened for applications for the 2021 Challenge Programme, focusing on how cross-disciplinary research can solve the challenges of tomorrow related to disease and food.

Further information

Sabina Askholm Larsen, Communications Partner, Novo Nordisk Foundation, +45 2367 3226, [email protected]

Peter Lodahl, Professor, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, +45 2056 5303, [email protected]

Matthias Christandl, Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, +45 5182 4325, [email protected]