Quantum leap: when Goppion met IBM

Ehningen, Germany

2021

In 2018, Goppion, world-leading producer of display cases and customized museum equipment, was approached by IBM about an ambitious project involving their latest creation, the IBM Quantum System One.

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The multinational technology company knew of Goppion’s work around the world, including prestigious partnerships such as the Jewel House at the Tower of London, the Mona Lisa display case at the Louvre Museum, and stateside collaborations with the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Now IBM needed some of that expertise, too.

IBM’s Quantum System One is the world’s first integrated quantum computer system, built for the needs of select IBM Quantum Network organizations to conduct research and explore new problems – but it still required something extra. An object so novel required bespoke casing to help contain, isolate, conserve and protect it from external elements, while at the same time keeping it visible.

For Goppion – more accustomed to dealing with fragile historical artifacts, museums and designers than scientists who speak the language of quantum mechanics – this was an exciting new challenge.

Goppion and IBM researchers worked together for six months, alongside the industrial design team at Map Project Office and multi award-winning, architectural and interior design firm Universal Design Studio. Together, the multi-disciplinary team realised a vision: creating an ‘incubator’ for the future, a display case that isn't a simple display case. Rather, it is a structure that forms a single entity with IBM Quantum System One. The quantum computer and its case represent a single entity; the constituents are not separable.

To initiate the development process, IBM engineers spent a week at Goppion headquarters at Trezzano sul Naviglio, Milan, Italy. Their mission was to share details of the project and work on how to best protect the computer from ambient sound, vibration, and changes in temperature. Minimizing these environmental issues improved overall system performance. The aim was to find the perfect balance between art and science, where form and function are one.

The result is a unique engineering design solution: a cube-shaped display case (3 meters on each side) comprising separate chambers. The outer chamber provides overall system protection and presents a signature look and feel. The inner volume contains the unique quantum computer cryostat and the control subsystems. The inner chamber is comprised of the cryostat a second environmental isolation that permits the system to plunge from room temperature, 273.15K, to temperatures colder than the depths of space, 0.01K.

The chambers are joined – through an interconnected system of independent frames made from aluminium and steel. An air-filtering system forms part of a clever design that guarantees a constant temperature, maintained close to absolute zero.

Glass panels at the front and rear of the cube are designed to open without effort through a rotating movement, allowing technicians and scientists easy access to install and dismantle the computer in just a few hours. This speeds up maintenance and updating processes, while limiting any risk of damaging the system.

The ‘incubator’ cube now forms an integral part of the IBM Quantum System One. The success of this joint effort in the design and manufacture of the prototype display case has inspired IBM to continue the collaboration. Goppion showcases will also protect IBM Quantum System One installations at special data centers in Germany and Japan – the first installations outside the USA.

The IBM Innovation Center in Ehningen, Germany, now hosts IBM's first Quantum System One computer installed outside of the United States. To accommodate it, Goppion has created a new display case (3 x 3 x 3 m) that represents improvements on the first IBM Quantum System One at the IBM Thomas J Watson Research Center in New York.

The display case for Ehningen – is freestanding, with front and rear opening on double four-bar chain hinges, equipped with internal fire suppression system, dimmable lighting, heat dissipation devices and an internal separation to protect the technical compartment of the quantum computer.

The main challenge this time was delivering the project at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything was developed remotely, and all logistics coordinated without being on-site. An additional challenge was actually fitting the showcase into the confined spaces of the data center, using engineering solutions that allow the customer to access the Quantum Envelope very quickly and efficiently.

Around 40 years ago, computer scientist Dr. Christopher Evans remarked: “Intelligence is the ability of a system to adjust appropriately to a changing world”. The IBM Quantum System and Goppion’s unique display case are an embodiment of this statement in action – a fine example of technological evolution happening in real time.