Quantum Rolls – DOE Dishes $218M; NSF Awards $31M; US Releases ‘Strategic Overview’

By John Russell

September 24, 2018

It was quite a day for U.S. quantum computing. In conjunction with the White House Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science (QIS) held today, the Department of Energy announced $218 million funding 85 QIS projects, the National Science Foundation awarded $31 million to support multidisciplinary quantum research, and the U.S. released its National Strategic Overview for Quantum information Science.

“QIS represents the next frontier in the Information Age,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in the official DOE-issued announcement. “At a time of fierce international competition, these investments will ensure sustained American leadership in a field likely to shape the long-term future of information processing and yield multiple new technologies that benefit our economy and society.”

Today’s flurry of announcements follows passage of the $1.2-billion-plus National Quantum Initiative just two weeks ago by the House of Representatives; NQI is a ten-year program to accelerate quantum information science (see HPCwire coverage, House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative). The Senate is expected to pass a similar version of the bill.

Quantum, it seems, is white hot. Putting all these ambitious intentions and now resources to good use is the next challenge.

Today’s DOE awards are being led by scientists at “28 institutions of higher learning across the nation and nine DOE national laboratories and cover a range of topics from developing hardware and software for a new generation of quantum computers, to the synthesis and characterization of new materials with special quantum properties, to probing the ways in which quantum computing and information processing provide insights into such cosmic phenomena as Dark Matter and black holes,” according to the DOE.

Three major program offices within the DOE’s Office of Science – Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR), Basic Energy Sciences (BES), and High Energy Physics (HEP) – are separately administering the awards, which were made on the basis of competitive peer review. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement:

Depending on the topic and program, awards range in duration from two to five years. Total funding for Fiscal Year 2018 will be $73 million, with outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

Given the number of projects, it’s best to review the DOE material directly. Projects cover a wide range of disciplines.

One example is a $31 million award to Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory to build and operate an Advanced Quantum Testbed (AQT). Researchers will use the testbed to explore superconducting quantum processors and evaluate how these emerging quantum devices can be utilized to advance scientific research. As part of this effort, Berkeley Lab will collaborate with MIT-Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL) to deploy different quantum processor architectures. There’s an account of the program on the LBNL website. Below is an excerpt:

“According to Irfan Siddiqi, Berkeley Lab scientist and AQT director, one of the goals of this project is to set up a multi-partner scientific collaboration to build a platform where basic outstanding questions about quantum computing can be answered. AQT will operate as an open resource for the community, allowing external researchers to evaluate superconducting architectures developed by testbed staff and collaborators for simulations in chemistry, materials, and other areas of computation. AQT will also help industry researchers by exploring what approaches are most likely to work and which ones do not. Industry can then take the solid ideas developed by the testbed and transform them into finished commercial products.

“With this testbed we will ask and evaluate the basic questions needed to guide the future development of quantum computers,” said Siddiqi. “We are the first to commission an instrument to look at this problem end-to-end in an open research collaboration between academia, industry, and the national laboratories. This means that we won’t rely on any one entity for all of the answers. Instead, we will use a tried-and-true scientific approach – we will seek out the best ideas, hardware, algorithms, etc. and combine all of that expertise to communally build a quantum testbed.”

Over the past five years, Berkeley Lab researchers developed quantum chemistry and optimization algorithms targeting prototype superconducting quantum processors funded by Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) grants. They proved the viability of their work by running these algorithms on a quantum processor comprising two superconducting transmon qubits developed in Siddiqi’s Quantum Nanoelectronics Lab at the University of California Berkeley. The success of their LDRD work eventually paved the way for two DOE-funded projects to explore quantum computing for science.

“AQT is essentially the next phase of our research,” said Jonathan Carter, deputy of science for Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area and the AQT’s co-principal investigator. “Our LDRD project allowed us to make some initial progress on what quantum computing hardware and quantum algorithms would look like. We then got to test the viability of our ideas and create a roadmap for building a quantum testbed with our DOE-funded Pathfinder project. Now with our DOE-funded AQT project, we are actually going to build the testbed and open it up to external scientific researchers.”

The NSF awards announced today are intended to help researchers explore new ways to detect photons, build bio-inspired circuits, develop light-based communication systems and more.

“The quantum revolution is about expanding the definition of what’s possible for the technology of tomorrow,” said NSF Director France Córdova in the official announcement. “NSF-supported researchers are working to deepen our understanding of quantum mechanics and apply that knowledge to create world-changing applications. These new investments will position the U.S. to be a global leader in quantum research and development and help train the next generation of quantum researchers.”

The new awards support multi-disciplinary research through two efforts:

  • $25 million for exploratory quantum research as part of the Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE)-Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (TAQS) effort. There are 25 projects included.
  • $6 million for quantum research and technology development as part of the RAISE-Engineering Quantum Integrated Platforms for Quantum Communication (EQuIP) effort. There are eight projects being funded here.

Clearly, there’s a lot going on. Today’s meeting in Washington underscores the importance being thrust upon quantum computing and quantum information science generally.

Below is an excerpt from the National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science’s opening section, entitled, Quantum information science: the next technological revolution

“Quantum information science (QIS) applies the best understanding of the sub-atomic world—quantum theory—to generate new knowledge and technologies. Through developments in QIS, the United States can improve its industrial base, create jobs, and provide economic and national security benefits. Prior examples of QIS-related technologies include semiconductor microelectronics, photonics, the global positioning system (GPS), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These underpin significant parts of the national economic and defense infrastructure. Future scientific and technological discoveries from QIS may be even more impactful. Long-running U.S. Government investments in QIS and more recent industry involvement have transformed this scientific field into a nascent pillar of the American research and development enterprise. The Trump administration is committed to maintaining and expanding American leadership in QIS to enable future long-term benefits from, and protection of, the science and technology created through this research. Based on the collective input of all the Government agencies invested or interested in QIS, this document presents a national strategic approach to achieving this goal.

“Specifically, the United States will create a visible, systematic, national approach to quantum information research and development, organized under a single brand and coordinated by the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS). These efforts will leverage existing programs and approaches, adapt to the changing and improving scientific and technical knowledge, reflect the best understanding of opportunities and challenges in QIS for the Nation, and take new steps where appropriate. The national effort will:

  • Focus on a science-first approach that aims to identify and solve Grand Challenges: problems whose solutions enable transformative scientific and industrial progress;
  • Build a quantum-smart and diverse workforce to meet the needs of a growing field;
  • Encourage industry engagement, providing appropriate mechanisms for public-private
  • partnerships;
  • Provide the key infrastructure and support needed to realize the scientific and technological
  • opportunities;
  • Drive economic growth;
  • Maintain national security; and
  • Continue to develop international collaboration and cooperation.

“The key next step will be to develop agency-level plans that address the identified approaches and policy opportunities in the next section, which will be integrated into an overall strategic plan. This will enable new opportunities on a ten-year horizon, possibly including: the development of quantum processors which may enable limited computing applications; new sensors for biotechnology and defense; next-generation positioning, navigation, and timing systems for military and commercial applications; new approaches to understanding materials, chemistry, and even gravity through quantum information theory; novel algorithms for machine learning and optimization; and transformative cyber security systems including quantum-resistant cryptography in response to developments in QIS.”

It will be fascinating to watch how all of this activity plays out. Most observers agree that quantum computing is potentially very powerful – perhaps game-changing for some classes of problems – but that it is still quite far off in terms of becoming a practical technology.

Link to DOE announcement: https://www.energy.gov/articles/department-energy-announces-218-million-quantum-information-science

Link to LBNL article: https://cs.lbl.gov/news-media/news/2018/berkeley-lab-to-build-an-advanced-quantum-computing-testbed/

Link to NSF announcement: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=296699&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

Link to National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/National-Strategic-Overview-for-Quantum-Information-Science.pdf

Sources: DOE, LBNL, NSF

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