Blueforsians building the dilution refrigerator

Finnish high-tech company enable ground-breaking research at ultra-low temps — Global regulation needed for new industry

High in the Atacama Desert in Chile a radio telescope studies the evolution of galaxies. The Simons Observatory relies on Finnish technology from Bluefors to do their ground-breaking work.

“The telescopes need to be ultra-cold, which they achieve with our dilution refrigerator measurement systems,” explains Rob Blaauwgeers, CEO of Bluefors. “It’s pretty cool to think that we are helping astronomers learn about the beginnings of the universe.”

Bluefors was born in the mid-2000s from research at Aalto University. They developed a new type of dilution refrigerator, a device that can cool to extremely low temperatures at a push of a button. At first most of their business came from the research community, but today one of the fastest growth sectors is quantum computing.

Quantum computing uses the phenomena of quantum mechanics to make a huge leap forward in computational ability. Heat creates error in the qubits – the basic unit of quantum information – so these computers need to be kept very cold. This is where Bluefors comes in.

“We are not in the quantum computing business, but we are enablers of it,” says Blaauwgeers. “This makes things interesting, because computing power is now a matter of national security.”

Quantum computers could potentially have revolutionary benefits for many applications, such as optimization, object and pattern recognition, machine learning, and cryptography. The industries around the world benefiting from Bluefors technology are pharmaceutical and automotive sectors, and various others – including the military. This has led to increased attention on quantum computing and everyone in the sector’s supply chain, like Bluefors. There have been suggestions that dilution refrigerators should be labelled as dual-use equipment, meaning they could be used for peaceful or warlike activities. If that were to happen then export controls will come into play.

Rob Blaauwgeers in the cryohall

“This has been high on the American agenda and rightfully so. We need this market to be open, honest and ethical,” says Blaauwgeers. “We also need clear rules, stability and a level playing field. We can’t have different rules for different countries.”

Bluefors is an international company, and about 95 per cent of its multi-million business comes from global export. Its administration, research and manufacturing facilities are in Finland. It needs to play by Finnish and European rules.

“We are doing great, growing about 30% annually, and the quantum computing sector is very exciting in Finland,” Blauwgeers says. “Finnish authorities have been good to us, but now as quantum computing is becoming politicised, we need their continued support. This is critical to Finland’s high-tech export sectors.”

Texts by David J. Cord and the article was published on August 7, 2021 in Helsingin Sanomat Business News.

You can read the article in Finnish here:

Edistyksellistä tutkimusta mahdollistava uusi teollisuudenala tarvitsee sääntelyä