Monday, 30 September 2019

Novo Nordisk Foundation to focus on quantum simulators to advance the understanding of complex processes and push the development of tomorrow’s medicines

As part of its Challenge Programme, the Novo Nordisk Foundation will support research on the development of quantum simulators. Overcoming the limitations of today’s computers through quantum-based simulation holds the potential to transform computing, encryption, sensing and drug design. This is the first time the Challenge Programme has focused on a theme within natural and technical science research.

Quantum mechanics is key to understanding complex processes and natural phenomena involving quantized systems, ranging from nuclear physics to chemical and biological reactions and designing tomorrow’s most effective drugs.

However, computational simulations of quantum systems, such as the dynamics and reactivity of molecules, are exceedingly difficult and time-consuming, even using modern supercomputers. As the size and complexity of quantum systems grow, the resources required to model them increase exponentially. Therefore, simulating important problems in biology, materials science or chemistry at relevant system sizes and time scales is often not manageable. Instead, researchers have to rely on approximate methods and crude assumptions. This constitutes a fundamental roadblock, limiting progress in transformative areas such as designing functional materials, chemical processes or pharmaceuticals.

“A specific effort in quantum simulators has the potential to generate a scientific breakthrough in realizing quantum-based computing and understanding complex natural systems,” says Lene Oddershede, Head of Nat-Tech, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

As part of its 2020 Challenge Programme, the Foundation is therefore supporting research on realizing functional quantum simulators with the goal of addressing challenges, particularly in the natural and life sciences and biotechnology, that lie beyond the capability of today’s computers. The total budget for this theme is DKK 120 million.

This is the first time that the Challenge Programme has focused on a theme within natural and technical science research. As part of its new strategy for 2019–2023, the Foundation has decided to increase its funding for this research area.

The Challenge Programme addresses global challenges within health and technology. The Foundation is awarding 5-year grants of DKK 30 million to DKK 60 million each under the Programme.

The theme Quantum Simulators for Unravelling Complex Processes in Nature is one of the four themes in the 2020 Challenge Programme. Research projects may, for example, seek to develop a quantum simulator platform that can address challenges in quantum biology, such as the exciton energy transfer in photosynthesis or magnetoreception in animals – or seek to simulate the function and processes of complex molecules, such as nitrogen fixation in enzymes for potentially improving future catalysts and fertilizer production.

Quantum-life Workshop

The Foundation is hosting a Quantum-life Workshop on 6 November 2019 thematically aligned with the announced Challenge Programme theme on quantum simulation. The Workshop will bring together quantum aficionados from academia, industry and investment for an exciting day of knowledge-sharing and networking. Participation is free of charge. For more information and registration:

About the 2020 Challenge Programme

With the Challenge Programme, the Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to contribute to developing and strengthening Denmark’s research environment within biomedicine, biotechnology and the natural and technical sciences. The Challenge Programme focuses on in-depth research on specific challenges within annually selected research themes.

For the application round of 2020, the Challenge Programme is seeking to support outstanding scientists working within one of the following four themes, with a total of up to DKK 480 million being awarded in 2020:

  • Neurodegenerative Diseases in an Ageing Population
  • Biodiversity and Productivity of Managed Ecosystems
  • The Microbial Secretome and the Plant Cell Wall
  • Quantum Simulators for Unravelling Complex Processes in Nature

The Challenge Programme will open for applications on 14 October 2019. The deadline for applications is 12 December 2019.

Read more about the research theme Quantum Simulators for Unravelling Complex Processes in Nature, the application criteria and the application process here.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is an independent Danish foundation with corporate interests. It has two objectives: 1) to provide a stable basis for the commercial and research activities of the companies in the Novo Group; and 2) to support scientific, humanitarian and social causes.

The vision of the Foundation is to contribute significantly to research and development that improves the lives of people and the sustainability of society. Since 2010, the Foundation has donated more than DKK 20 billion (€2.7 billion), primarily for research at public institutions and hospitals in Denmark and the other Nordic countries as well as research-based treatment and prevention of diabetes. Read more at

Further information

Kasper Nørgaard, Senior Scientific Officer, phone: +45 3527 6538,

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, phone: +45 3067 4805,