The annual report introductions I have been writing for the last nine years follow a well-established pattern. I write a few opening sentences, bits and pieces about the research I found exciting, something about outreach, contacts with industry, VIP visits, an occasional joke, and a word or two about the future. There are many accomplishments I could write about this year too; however, allow me to deviate from my usual pattern.
As we approach our tenth anniversary, I would like to offer a few, more personal, remarks on how CQT happened. I can refer you to our Annual Report for 2016 for details of our new results, projects and people, while I turn the clock back. I'd like to share some memories I first recalled for the book 50 Years of Science in Singapore (World Scientific, 2017).
2016 felt like the end of an era when Lam Chuan Leong, a distinguished civil servant before his retirement, stepped down as Chair of our Governing Board. His help was invaluable. Building expertise here in quantum technologies required strategic decisions. He was always available to discuss them with me and nudge me in the right direction.
There is no narrative, simple or embellished, that can capture the pioneering spirit of the days when Singapore took the first step towards becoming a quantum island. It happened in a truly quantum fashion, in more than one way.
One narrative leads us to the corridors of power. The year was 2000 and Tony Tan, at the time Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, took a personal interest in the Millennium Conference on Frontiers in Science, at which I gave an overview of quantum computation. My subsequent meeting with Tony Tan and a long over-dinner conversation left me confused. I was not used to politicians talking in an intelligent and persuasive way about big problems that science can address.
Another narrative takes us to the hawker stalls and Indian eateries that I frequented with Kwek Leong Chuan and Kuldip Singh, talking mostly about quantum physics. Their enthusiasm for this emerging field was contagious. The journal club they ran brought together faculty members, including Lai Choy Heng, Oh Choo Hiap and Tan Eng Chye, who despite heavy admin duties, found time to discuss science.
Then I can tell a story about Chan Chui Theng, a brave woman who decided to risk her job security to offer temporary administrative support (now in its tenth year) to a wacky ang moh talking quantum mumbo-jumbo, and also about her assistant, Evon Tan, who from day one defied causality (things got done before anyone asked for them).
Yet another narrative must include a wonderful duo from the Ministry of Education, Benny Lee and Perry Lim, who spent days drafting policies for our new centre. I shall not tell you any anecdotes about them, for they are very serious people today, but they stayed in touch, showing a genuine interest in our work. The two of them redefined for me the meaning of civil service.
Or perhaps I can tell you a story about an outreach event, during which Christian Kurtsiefer explained the magic of quantum interference to a Singaporean boy. The glow of thoughtful curiosity emanating from his face made a big impact on me. At this moment, I understood that no matter how many groundbreaking papers, patents and quantum contraptions we produce, there would be another legacy. We can shape how the next generation sees and understands the world, how they solve problems and how they will make good use of quantum technologies.
I can tell many more stories, big and small, funny and sentimental, but none of them give a truly comprehensive answer to the question of how it all happened. It just happened and I am so glad that it happened, for I truly believe we were given an opportunity to create something exceptional.
It is heartening to have the incoming Chair of our Governing Board, Singapore’s Chief Defence Scientist Quek Gim Pew, describe CQT as "a jewel in Singapore's R&D landscape" (see the interview with him in our Annual Report). We welcome his help as we do our best to keep CQT sparkling.
Artur Ekert was CQT's founding Director, leading the Centre from December 2007 to July 2020. He was also the Lee Kong Chian Centennial Professor at the National University of Singapore and the Professor of Quantum Physics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, UK. He is one of the pioneers of quantum cryptography. He has worked, communicated with and advised several companies and government agencies.
His current research extends over most aspects of information processing in quantum-mechanical systems. He is a recipient of several awards, including the 1995 Maxwell Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics and the 2007 Royal Society Hughes Medal. In his non-academic life he is an avid scuba diver.