Penn State Receives $715K in NSF Grants to Advance Quantum Computing

March 18, 2022

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., March 18, 2022 — Quantum computers may provide more powerful computation than conventional computers, but their development is hindered by gaps in security and curriculum development, according to Swaroop Ghosh, Joseph and Janice M. Monkowski Career Development Associate Professor in the Penn State School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Ghosh received two grants totaling $715,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance quantum computation. He aims to support the evolution of the field through both projects, one focused on understanding security risks and one on curating more comprehensive educational approaches.

Advancing Security to Enable Large-Scale Quantum Computing

Quantum circuits, components of quantum computers, could one day solve significant scientific problems that classical computers lack the power or efficiency to address, according to Ghosh. They can contain embedded intellectual property, however, that could be at risk without proper security measures.

“We need to better understand the security assets, potential threats and defenses,” Ghosh said. “Otherwise, unprotected quantum circuits could lose sensitive intellectual property and present significant security concerns due to poor optimization of quantum computer problems that could be of national or global importance.”

With a three-year, $500,000 grant, Ghosh plans to identify vulnerabilities in quantum circuits that could lead to security breaches. He will focus on multi-tenant computing, which allows multiple users to perform operations while sharing the same hardware. Multi-tenancy can be cheaper and more convenient for users, Ghosh said, but poses unique security risks due to the more connected nature of its computational units. The researchers will also examine other vulnerabilities that could allow for tampering, reverse engineering and installation of malware.

Following the identification of major threats, the researchers aim to develop defenses for quantum computers at the circuit and system levels. The methods used by the team will be available for use with commercial optimization tools.

“By addressing security shortcomings, this project will remove a major roadblock towards applicability of quantum computers in security- and privacy-sensitive sectors,” Ghosh said. “It will lead to widespread adoption of quantum computers in health care, energy and defense sectors and, therefore, make a positive economic impact.”

Bringing Practical Quantum Computing Problems into the Classroom

For quantum technology to continue advancing, its education must also evolve, said Ghosh. He received a two-year, $215,000 grant to create a hands-on, quantum computing postsecondary curriculum.

“This project will impact society by promoting literacy of cybersecurity threats arising from quantum computing,” Ghosh said. “The proposed course can be taken by students with minimal prerequisite knowledge, exposing large populations of undergraduate students to quantum computing and cybersecurity issues in the early stages of their career.”

By developing a quantum security and trust education framework, Ghosh’s team will design a new curriculum that incorporates hands-on activities and games as well as structured training. The proposed course would allow students to create various quantum circuits, validating them with simulations as well as physical hardware. Cloud-based access to quantum hardware and simulation software will allow students to participate in personalized learning at a lower cost due to the sharing of resources, according to Ghosh.

By training students to apply theoretical knowledge of quantum computing to real hardware, the course is intended to better prepare students for careers in the field. The proposed curriculum could enable advancements in quantum computing applications and cybersecurity against quantum computation-based attacks.

“There is an urgent need to bridge the widening gap between coursework and industry advancement,” Ghosh said. “This curriculum will help ensure there is an adequately skilled workforce prepared to address the opportunities and threats arising from increased accessibility of quantum computing.”


Source: Gabrielle Stewart, Penn State

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