A National Science Foundation webinar held last week and led by Bogdan Mihaila, director of NSF Physics at the Frontier program, provided more guidance for potential submitters to the just announced National Quantum Virtual Laboratory (NQVL) program. The deadline for the first round of proposals is coming quickly for phase one proposals (letter of intent, 10/6/23, full proposal, 11/30/2023).
The NQVL program is an ambitious effort to create a distributed quantum computing infrastructure (hardware and software) to provide much wider access to researchers across many domains. The idea is to jumpstart creation of needed resources, skill sets, use cases, and access for NSF researchers. There’s an NQVL management team made up of members from various NSF directorates (MPS, TIP, ENG, CISE, BIO, and EDU).
“The gap we are really trying to fill is essentially the need to actually build systems that hopefully will allow us to demonstrate the practical quantum advantage for a number of applications. Some of the applications we know; some of them don’t know. At the same time, we want to help create [and] establish a user base that uses these systems, runs applications, designs applications for them, and fits that particular knowledge in the next generations of these systems as we move forward. So, system engineering and codesign are basic principles of the NQVL program,” said Mihaila.
“What we are really talking about are quantum science and technology demonstrations. We hope that the community will be willing to engage and use the current state of the art in quantum information science and engineering (QISE) to build a gen-zero, the first generation of these systems, that can then be supported by users to develop use cases and codesign the systems and technology platforms in order to drive innovation and upgrade these systems in a sequence of cycles of innovation.”
Mihaila added, “The how [we do this] is by supporting both basic research and use-inspired research. These two types of activities are not antithetical. They really should synergize with each other, and we want to do this intentionally. At the end of the day, what we hope to do at NSF is to foster a dynamic equilibrium between goal-oriented R&D, which are long-term necessarily, and projects that have a finite duration. The vision is we will be able to actually accelerate progress towards our common goals in [QISE].
“So why NSF? Well, the systems that we will be building are not necessarily focused on our commercial side of the house, if you want. They’re really focused on promoting curiosity-driven research. The hope is that we can look at quantum information science and engineering and establish it as an enabler for scientific discovery.”
Commercial partners are welcome but cannot be the PI or co-PI. The PI must be from the institution making the proposal. The current solicitation is only focused on the pilot component of the NQVL QSDT projects. “These are essentially planning grants when the community will engage in order to develop and to mature the technology and also to formulate plans that will allow them to advance to the design phase and then to the implementation phase. All this information is present in the solicitation,” said Mihaila.
The NQVL management intends to offer a repeat seminar in September and is in the process of creating a FAQ document.
NSF estimates up to 5 Quantum Science and Technology Demonstration (QSTD) Pilot awards will be granted in each of the two competition rounds. “The number of awards will depend on the availability of funds and the quality of the proposals. Anticipated Funding Amount: $10,000,000. This solicitation pertains only to the Pilot phase of the NQVL program. QSTD Pilot awards may be funded at a level up to $1,000,000 for 12 months,” according to the solicitation.
Although letters of intent are not binding, “they are required because we want to start planning to essentially understand what where the community is, and start planning for the panels and the reviewers that we will have to contact and [we] expect the conflict of interest situation to be pretty daunting. So we need your help in addressing that,” said Mihaila.
On eligibility broadly, he said, “Let me point out to a couple of deviations because these really impacts the submission process. One of them concerns the fact that we will not accept collaborative research proposals in the NQVL program. Everything has to be channeled through one leading institution, and if money has to be sent to two different institutions that will be done through sub-awards.
“Partnerships are an important component of the NQVL program,” he emphasized. “We realize that for the pilot phase, not all the partnerships will be in place. If you know that you will be collaborating with a particular institution or a different project, we strongly suggest that you submit a letter of collaboration. However, we have a deviation from the standard one-sentence letters of collaboration that we normally use at NSF. In this case, we will allow the collaborator to essentially provide a succinct list of the contributions to the project that the person or institution will provide. Last but not least as far as eligibility information is concerned, the leading institution will be limited to institutions of higher education and nonprofit non academic organizations.”
It’s best to consult the text of the solicitation for specific details, advised Mihaila.
Members of the NQVL management team include, Bogdan Mihaila (MPS), Pradeep Fulay (TIP), Dominique Dagenais (ENG), Almaden Chtchelkanova (CISE), Engin Serpersu (BIO), and Vinod Lohani (EDU).
Link to NSF NQVL page, https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2023/nsf23604/nsf23604.htm
Top image: Close-up of individual design cells of a 300mm quantum photonic wafer. Credit: AFRL Information Directorate.