For a long time quantum computing has had the air of the kind of fantastical technology that would always be tantalisingly out of reach.

A recent event co-hosted by EntrepreneurFirst and Nature highlighted the progress that is being made, with IBM also announcing that they are connecting up a quantum computer to the web for people to experiment with.

The project involves a 5 qubit machine, with a qubit allowing it to operate in both ‘0 and 1’ states at the same time, thus increasing its potential computational power enormously. A one qubit machine has roughly 16 possible states, but once you get over 300, you begin to exceed the number of atoms in the universe.

Fellow tech giants Microsoft have also been beefing up their quantum computing effort, and this week announced the winners of its first Quantum Computing Challenge.  Taking pride of place at the awards were Johannes Bausch from Cambridge University and Andrew Simmons from Imperial College, both of whom received second place prizes at the event.

Earlier this year, the Quantum Architectures and Computation Group at Microsoft Research launched a software simulator for Language-Integrated Quantum Operations, LIQUi|>, which enables everyone to get hands-on with quantum computing. LIQUi|> includes state-of-the-art simulation of quantum circuits and quantum noise – with those tools students devised real world problems and came up with running solutions in the simulator.

Andrew Simmons from Imperial College, London, said:

“Coming second in the competition was amazing and something we weren’t really expecting. It’s a great feeling to know that Microsoft is as interested in our work as we are.”

The European Commission is attempting to ensure that Europe takes a leading role in this with a €1 billion investment made to try and turn research in the area into concrete technological opportunities that can be commercialised by industry.