IBM, in partnership with Wits University, is changing the game for South African researchers
Quantum mechanics is revered as the next big step in global scientific research. It aims to answer the biggest of questions, like how molecules work or how information is processed and acted upon. South Africa has been given a chance to answer some of these questions thanks to a new initiative with one of the biggest technological companies in the world – IBM.
Recently, the computer giant announced that it will be expanding its quantum computing initiative to African universities. This is thanks to a partnership struck between them and the University of the Witwatersrand, who will be the first African partner to access the company’s technology.
The new initiative is an extension of IBM’s exploration into quantum technology and computing. In 2016, the company made quantum computers available to the public via the IBM Q Experience quantum cloud service and it has been consistently doubling the power of those computers since 2017.
IBM Q serves as a data centre for companies, laboratories, and academic institutions. The announcement means that universities such as Wits can access faster computing power to help their research (research that includes everything from artificial intelligence and molecular design, to laser technology and quantum optics). Wits University is one of 16 universities across the African continent who be able to access the service, and who are all part of the African Research University Alliance (ARUA).
According to IBM physicist, Dr Ismail Akhalwaya, quantum computing encompasses the pursuit of understanding quantum mechanics, which in turn can help us understand the laws of nature at a microscopic level. It is a step up from supercomputers in that organic systems and learning are used to solve complex equations and algorithms alongside current generation of computers.
South Africa itself serves as a breeding ground for innovation and talent. The South African Supercomputing team are three-time world champions in the field and universities such as Wits and the University of Stellenbosch are home to some of these well-established research groups.
On top of it all, IBM Q will host an invite-only Qiskit Camp later this year for researchers and scientists where they will receive extensive training. This will hopefully lead to globally-significant experiments and breakthroughs that will happen right here in South Africa.