NSF Invests $15 Million in Quantum STAQ

By Tiffany Trader

August 7, 2018

Quantum computing development is in full ascent as global backers aim to transcend the limitations of classical computing by leveraging the magical-seeming properties of the miniature world, with an eye to solving previously intractable problems in molecular modeling, cryptography and many other fields.

Seeking to accelerate the quantum revolution to advance U.S. leadership, the National Science Foundation has awarded $15 million in funding toward a multi-institution quantum research collaboration: the Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design (STAQ) project. With an official start date of August 1, 2018, STAQ is working to develop the world’s first practical quantum computer over the next five years using trapped ion technology.

“Quantum computers will change everything about the technology we use and how we use it, and we are still taking the initial steps toward realizing this goal,” said NSF Director France Córdova in a statement. “Developing the first practical quantum computer would be a major milestone. By bringing together experts who have outlined a path to a practical quantum computer and supporting its development, NSF is working to take the quantum revolution from theory to reality.”

The multi-disciplinary project includes physicists, computer scientists and engineers from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Maryland and University of New Mexico. Kenneth Brown, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke, is the project’s PI. The co-PI is Jungsang Kim, who leads the Multifunctional Integrated Systems Technology group at Duke.

The team will be focused on four core goals (listed in the NSF announcement):

  • Develop a quantum computer with a sufficiently large number of quantum bits (qubits) to solve a challenging calculation.
  • Ensure that every qubit interacts with all other qubits in the system, critical for solving fundamental problems in physics.
  • Integrate software, algorithms, devices and systems engineering.
  • Involve equal input from experimentalists, theorists, engineers and computer scientists.

The project’s NSF award abstract provides a few more details on the implementation strategy. As the project’s name implies, a lot is being tackled.

“A quantum computer can exhibit an advantage over standard computers when the quantum computer is large enough that brute force simulation strategies become infeasible and a quantum algorithm is sufficiently complex that approximate computational methods do not provide accurate results,” the description reads. “The STAQ project aims to utilize this quantum advantage by building ion trap quantum computers with 64 or more qubits and developing quantum algorithms suitable for noisy quantum devices. This ambitious task will be enabled by a software stack that optimally maps the quantum algorithms onto the ion trap device and allows for the algorithms and hardware to be designed together.”

STAQ will also organize a Quantum Ideas School, to recruit and train new students and as well as current industrial scientists in the quantum information skills necessary for this emerging field.

The STAQ project had its inception in the NSF Ideas Lab,  Practical Fully-Connected Quantum Computer Challenge. The NSF Ideas Lab program generates creative, collaborative proposals to address a given research challenge though week-long, free-form exchanges.

STAQ aligns with The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution, one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.  The Quantum Leap initiative holds that “quantum research is essential for preparing future scientists and engineers to implement the discoveries of the next quantum revolution into technologies that will benefit the nation.”

The project also falls under the mission of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), the multi-agency effort to advance U.S. leadership in high performance computing launched by the White House in 2015 with collaboration from industry and academia. Specifically it is tied to the third objective: establishing a viable path beyond Moore’s law.

NSF announcement: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=296227&org=NSF&from=news

NSF award page: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1818914

Feature image caption: A fabricated trap that researchers use to capture and control atomic ion qubits (quantum bits). Credit: K. Hudek, Ion Q&E / E. Edwards, JQI

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