U.S. Quantum Director Charles Tahan Calls for NQIA Reauthorization Now

By By Charles Tahan, Director, National Quantum Coordination Office

February 29, 2024

Editor’s Note: Reprinted below is the latest Director’s Letter posted today by Charles Tahan — the Director of the National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO) and the assistant for the Quantum Information Science within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. That’s a heavy title. Broadly, his role (and NQCO’s role) is to coordinate and advance activities called for in the U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) of 2018.

Last year’s logjam in Congress prevented NQIA’s renewal for another five years but it seems likely to be renewed this year. In his letter, Tahan says “it is time now,” to get it done. (See HPCwire coverage). Truthfully, we, or perhaps more accurately the media, don’t hear directly enough from NQCO about its activities. Might be useful to change that. Tahan reviews a few NQCO initiatives and accomplishments in his letter. Importantly, he review recommendations for inclusion in a reauthorized NQIA as well as broader recommendations NQCO made to Congress last year.

No less importantly, he highlights the National Q-12 Education program and adds a nice note at the top of his letter recounting his early discovery, exposure, and plunge into QIS and ends his letter with thoughts on how important early education is to building a quantum workforce and exciting students.

Origin stories make the best superhero movies. I am no superhero, but I still remember what my undergraduate thesis advisor said when I told him that I wanted to design quantum computers in graduate school: “You’ll never find that!” My journey in quantum information science began a year earlier when I found a book in the physics library on “quantum computing.” I hardly believed it. Somehow, I had found this thing that combined my two loves and majors: physics and computer science.

This past year has been about renewal. The National Quantum Initiative (NQI) began in 2018 as an eleven-year program, with many of the initial activities only authorized for five years. It is now time to reauthorize the NQI Act. The National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO) did a few things to inform this process beyond our existing national strategy and annual reports. We organized the agencies that are represented in the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS) and Subcommittee on Economic and Security Implications of Quantum Science (ESIX) to give their input on the reauthorization. The National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee (NQIAC), too, spent substantial time evaluating the progress of the NQI and making recommendations on renewing the NQI. It is worth a read. During my testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I summarized these recommendations, and I think they are worth repeating here:

  1. Reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE) quantum information science research and education centers and remove the limit on the number of centers authorized for these agencies. Provide support to enable fundamental science research, applied research, demonstration, and commercialization.
  2. Support NSF programs to expand and broaden participation in quantum information science, including potential new mid-career development programs and bridge programs focused on preparing post-baccalaureate students for graduate programs in quantum information science and engineering.
  3. Strengthen the whole-of-government approach to implementing the original National Quantum Initiative Act by expanding the authorized core agencies and providing new dedicated international funding to follow-up on U.S. commitments to international cooperation. OSTP recommended expanding the initial authorized core agencies which were initially NSF, DOE, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to include the State Department in the National Quantum Initiative Act. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also have important roles to play, for example, in both terrestrial and space-based quantum sensing. The NQCO welcomes and encourages further integration of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Intelligence Community (IC) research funding organizations and laboratories, which have played an important role in the development of quantum information science in this country since the beginning.
  4. Translate discoveries in quantum information science to commercial utility and agency missions through lab-to-market engineering, systems integration programs, and public-private partnerships. In particular, the NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) offers a new pathway to focus technology development and engineering for promising applications. Other opportunities include those previously authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act, such as the DOE Quantum Network Infrastructure Research Program and the Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology program (QUEST). The NIST Center for Quantum Engineering Research could conduct engineering research to accelerate scientific breakthroughs and accelerate quantum technology transfer.
  5. Prioritize funding to upgrade the aging infrastructure of laboratory facilities and create and equip new laboratories with the tooling necessary to engage in cutting edge quantum information science research. High-quality research capital is essential for the United States to remain competitive with world-wide investments and to recruit and retain the best talent.

Let me elaborate on the notion of a quantum international fund. This past year also marked the birth of a multilateral quantum dialogue; it began with a series of discussions two years ago that we nicknamed the 2^N group. Like any new collection of people with a purpose, the beginning must start with our shared values. Here is what my counterparts and I came up with for Guiding principles for a global quantum ecosystem informed by science, also available here and here:

  1. Promote scientific collaboration and the exchange of ideas to support quicker scientific discovery in QIST.
  2. Incorporate subject-matter expertise in policy discussions and decisions.
  3. Share best practices and coordinate outreach in joint efforts to grow the QIST talent base.
  4. Promote research security, align and reinforce technology protection measures, and support a fair marketplace to create a vibrant and trusted global QIST industry.
  5. Plan for the deployment of quantum-resistant cyber infrastructure, such as quantum-resistant cryptography, to responsibly address the risks of QIST.
  6. Increase quantum awareness and readiness in the development and use of quantum-based technologies and applications.
  7. Encourage the discovery of use cases of QIST for the benefit of society.

These principles build on the decades of shared values in the Science and Technology Agreements underpinning our international research cooperation. What you see here is obvious in retrospect, as we all face the same challenges: from growing the pool of talent to enable this new field, to finding the applications that will propel us forward, to properly balancing technological development and security.

It is fitting to use this letter to highlight the National Q-12 Education Partnership, which began 4 years ago. One of the first things I wanted to do when I became NQCO director was to launch a series of videos interviewing scientists on their different careers paths, including those in government – the Quantum Profiles. I am pleased that my home lab, the Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS), has just funded the investigators leading the Q-12 to expand and broaden the Quantum Profiles toward that original vision, including interviews with those like me who chose to go into government.

Quantum is more than quantum physics. It starts with having good careers for people to aspire to and builds on a foundation of education, inspiration, and, most importantly, experiences. You too can make a contribution. All types of skillsets will be needed to build future quantum computers and entanglement distribution networks. I often joke that my superpower has been all the television I watched as a kid. But really it started when my mom taught me the scientific method during my first science fair; the summer internships and research experiences that followed gave me the confidence to keep going.

My hope is that many other kids get the chances I did. The Biden-Harris Administration’s leadership and the Q-12 has been integral to making the United States a leader in World Quantum Day and developing curricula like the QuanTime and APS Quantum To-Go programs. In the next five years of the NQI, we need to continue developing the nation’s quantum workforce. The LPS Qubit Collaboratory will be the highlight of my next and last Director’s letter.

Link to Tahan’s letter, https://www.quantum.gov/quantum-origin-stories/

BRIEF TAHAN BIO

Dr. Charles Tahan is the Assistant Director for Quantum Information Science (QIS) and the Director of the National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO) within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The NQCO ensures coordination of the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) and QIS activities across the federal government, industry, and academia.

Dr. Tahan is on detail from the Laboratory for Physical Sciences where he drove technical progress in the future of information technology as Technical Director. Research at LPS spans computing, communications, and sensing, from novel device physics to high-performance computer architectures. As a technical lead, Dr. Tahan stood up new research initiatives in silicon and superconducting quantum computing; quantum characterization, verification, and validation; and new and emerging qubit science and technology. As a practicing physicist, he is Chief of the intramural QIS research programs at LPS and works with students and postdocs from the University of Maryland-College Park to conduct original research in quantum information and device theory. His contributions have been recognized by the Researcher of the Year Award, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and as an ODNI Science and Technology Fellow. He continues to serve as Chief Scientist of LPS.

Dr. Tahan earned a PhD in Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005 and a B.Sc. in Physics and Computer Science with Highest Honors from the College of William & Mary in 2000. From 2005-2007 he was a National Science Foundation Distinguished International Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK; the Center for Quantum Computing Technology, Australia; and the University of Tokyo, Japan. He served as chief technical consultant for quantum information science and technology programs in DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) while at Booz Allen Hamilton from 2007-2009. He has a long-term commitment to science and society including creating one of the first games meant to build intuition about quantum computing.

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