NSF Issues Next Solicitation and More Detail on National Quantum Virtual Laboratory

By John Russell

July 10, 2024

After percolating for roughly a year, NSF has issued the next solicitation for the National Quantum Virtual Lab program — this one focused on design and implementation phases of the Quantum Quantum Science and Technology Demonstration (QSTD) projects, with up to $32 million in funding. NSF has said little about NQVL since its launch last summer with a solicitation outling the project and seeking Pilot Phase proposals for QSTD. Proposal submissions were due in November and June and thus far NSF hasn’t announced any winners.

HPCwire reported last summer following an NSF guidance webinar, “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)”

Bogdan Mihaila, one of the NQVL program directors, said at the time ,“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.”

“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.”

The latest solicitation (NSF 24-586: NSF National Quantum Virtual Laboratory – Quantum Testbeds, June 27 2024) adds details and updates funding levels. Here’s an excerpt:

“With this program solicitation, the Foundation is taking the next step in implementing the National Quantum Virtual Laboratory (NQVL) concept as an overarching shared infrastructure designed to facilitate the translation from basic science and engineering to the resultant technology, while at the same time emphasizing and advancing its scientific and technical value. The NQVL aims to develop and utilize use-inspired and application-oriented quantum technologies. In the process, NQVL researchers will explore quantum frontiers, foster the development of QISE education and workforce development strategies, engage in outreach activities at all levels, and promote input and participation from the full spectrum of diverse talent in QISE, thereby lowering barriers at all entry points of the research enterprise.

“Engagement with all sectors of the United States (U.S.) QISE community will be necessary for this initiative to succeed, and, indeed, the project is designed to include participation from a full spectrum of organizations who have expertise to contribute. In particular, NSF recognizes that the involvement of industry partners is essential and will welcome these to be a part of the overall structure. Partnerships with other U.S. Federal agencies under the NQI umbrella are also encouraged.

“While this solicitation lays out the vision for the entire NQVL program that includes Quantum Science and Technology Demonstration (QSTD) projects, support for enabling technologies through Transformative Advances in Quantum Systems (TAQS), as well as a central coordination hub, only proposals for Design- and Implementation-phase QSTDs are solicited at this time.”

As described by NSF, the NQVL program is envisioned as having three components:

1. NQVL:QSTD – Quantum Science and Technology Demonstration projects. These projects will make up the scientific and engineering core of the activities that combine to form a federated NQVL infrastructure and are expected to pass through three phases: Pilot, Design, and Implementation. Given the project nature of the NQVL:QSTD activity it is expected that the participants will proceed through all three project development phases as listed in the eligibility requirements.

Each NQVL:QSTD project is expected to define a quantum advantage goal and a projected pathway for achieving that goal. It is expected that this pathway will have a focus on the design and integration of quantum systems co-designed with applications developed by the full spectrum of diverse talent of the user community. Through this process of systems design and prototyping, the project will connect the underlying basic scientific knowledge to an application that is identified by this end-user community and fostered by direct interactions between these users, the systems engineers, and the basic science developers. Those activities will be complemented by appropriately scaled education and workforce development plans for training diverse talent in the quantum workforce.

2. NQVL:TAQS – NSF aims to provide resources to support research and development of enabling technologies identified by the NQVL:QSTD projects as they mature through the various phases. NSF envisions doing this through the mechanism of the Transformative Advances in Quantum Systems (TAQS) program as an independent funding opportunity that will address critical needs of the NQVL infrastructure as well as contribute to expanding the access to the Laboratory to a wider community.

3. NQVL:Central – NQVL Planning and Coordination. NSF anticipates support for one NQVL Central Hub that will perform three distinct functions: i) promote collaboration and networking between the NQVL project teams; ii) promote engagement with the broad QISE community, partnerships with others and outreach activities to the general public; and iii) facilitate community oversight and the development of success metrics and benchmarks. The first function will enable the identification and potential exchange of component parts among the teams, especially in the Implementation phase. The other two functions recognize the need for greater accountability to the wider QISE community and to the public.As such, NQVL:Central will be called upon to serve as the intellectual hub for the growing QISE academic community.

The NQVL Central Hub will also facilitate connections between the units of the NQVL and the activities of other agencies as well as establish mechanisms for industrial participation in the QSTD goals. The NQVL Central Hub will connect with the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) and professional societies whose membership includes existing and potential practitioners in QISE. The NQVL Central Hub will host workshops and scientific programs that foster connections and dissemination throughout the QISE community. Lastly, the NQVL Central Hub will be asked to develop and maintain a Strategic Plan for NQVL investments, a living community document designed to keep abreast with evolving trends in the field, progress toward community goals, management and coordination, and implementation of new directions.

A point of NQVL emphasis seems to be not merely seeking wider collaboration but actively welcoming commercial partners.

Celia Merzbacher, executive director of QED-C told HPCwire, “I am pleased to see this new program take shape. It has the potential to connect the academic and industry communities in a meaningful way. I think the approach shows that NSF is remaining open to how best to achieve the goals.”

Broadly speaking, NSF has said little about NQVL program. The agency seems to be working out its quantum strategy which has many focal points. In late April, NSF held a planning workshop at an ACM meeting to discuss if NSF’s Computer, Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate should have its own a quantum initiative.

In the call for workshop participation, organizers noted, “This workshop will lead to a comprehensive report that will provide a detailed assessment of the need for a new CISE program and will provide a description of the research areas that such a program should focus on.”

Stay tuned

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