Chinese quantum prize rewards international stars of the field

“Well done China! Keep up the good work!
(if only the Americans would sign Quantum research into law!)

Chinese quantum prize rewards international stars of the field

The Micius Quantum Prize celebrates a field that China increasingly values.

A satellite-to-earth link with the quantum satellite "Micius"
A satellite-to-Earth link is established between the quantum satellite ‘Micius’ and a quantum teleportation experiment. Credit: Jin Liwang/Xinhua/Alamy

A private Chinese foundation has announced the first 12 winners of the Micius Quantum Prize, a new prize awarded to quantum scientists from across the world.

On 26 April, the Micius Foundation announced winners for the 2018 and 2019 prizes, which recognize quantum computation and quantum communication, respectively. Six scientists won for each year, all of whom will receive one million yuan (about US$150,000).

Although the prize recognizes international recipients, it celebrates a field that China increasingly values and contributes to. “The prize symbolizes China’s growing ambition but also research accomplishments in quantum technologies,” says quantum physicist Artur Ekert of the University of Oxford, UK, who is one of the 2019 prizewinners, for his theoretical contributions that helped to establish the field of quantum cryptography.

The winners also include other stars of quantum science, such as Peter Shor, a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and David Deutsch, a physicist at the University of Oxford, UK — both of whom wrote pioneering quantum algorithms — and Pan Jian-Wei, a physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei. Pan was the main architect of the world’s first quantum-communications space satellite, also called Micius, after an ancient Chinese philosopher. Eleven of the winners are from Europe and North America; Pan is the only award recipient from China.

Encouraging development

The Micius Foundation, which is located at the USTC, was established in 2018 with 100 million yuan in donations from private entrepreneurs.

“We see a rapid and encouraging development of quantum-information science worldwide, and we are very excited about it,” says USTC physicist Luo Yi, the foundation’s chair and a member of the prize’s seven-person selection committee. “We hope to be part of history.”

The Shaw Prize, which awards international scientists in astronomy, the life sciences and mathematics, is based in Hong Kong. But prizes from mainland China that celebrate scientists from around the world are rare.

“I see this prize as an effort to embrace and recognize an international quantum-physics community beyond national interests,” says theoretical physicist Peter Zoller of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, who is one of the 2018 prizewinners, for his theoretical work on quantum computation. He says that the prize is recognition that Chinese quantum science is “part of an international family”.

Other prizes in quantum science include the Rolf Landauer and Charles H Bennett Award in Quantum Computing, which is sponsored by the American Physical Society, and the International Conference on Quantum Communication, Measurement and Computing award. Gilles Brassard, a computer scientist from the University of Montreal in Canada, one of the Micius prizewinners in the 2019 quantum-computation category, says that the Micius award is “certainly the biggest in terms of money”, and “was created to be the biggest in terms of prestige”. The “future will tell”, he adds.

Lu Chaoyang, the secretary-general of the foundation and a quantum physicist at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, was mentored by and has collaborated with Pan. But Luo says that this collaboration did not create a conflict of interest during the selection of winners. “The secretary-general is in charge of daily operations of the foundation,” he says. “Dr Lu is not in the selection committee, and doesn’t have the right to nominate, recommend, and evaluate.”

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