The University of Chicago is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in order to launch an intellectual hub for improving industrial, academic and governmental efforts in the engineering and science of quantum information.
UChicago and affiliated laboratories to collaborate on advancing the science and engineering of quantum information. Credit: Nicholas Brawand
Located within the Institute for Molecular Engineering, this hub is called the Chicago Quantum Exchange and will help in exploring quantum information and developing new applications capable of dramatically improving technology for sensing, computing and communication. The partnership will include Engineers and Scientists from the two national labs and IME, and also Scholars from The University of Chicago’s departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Computer Science, Chemistry and Physics.
Quantum mechanics governs the behavior of matter at the subatomic and atomic levels in unfamiliar and exotic ways compared to the classical physics used to understand the movements of everyday objects. The engineering of quantum phenomena is capable of leading to new computing capabilities and classes of devices, allowing novel approaches to solve problems that are difficult to be addressed using the currently available technology.
The combination of the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, working together as the Chicago Quantum Exchange, is unique in the domain of quantum information science. The CQE’s capabilities will span the range of quantum information—from basic solid-state experimental and theoretical physics, to device design and fabrication, to algorithm and software development. CQE aims to integrate and exploit these capabilities to create a quantum information technology ecosystem.
Matthew Tirrell, Dean and Founding Pritzker Director, Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne’s Deputy Laboratory Director for Science
David Awschalom, UChicago’s Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and an Argonne Senior Scientist, will be serving as Director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. Discussions about setting up a trailblazing quantum engineering initiative commenced immediately after Awschalom joined the UChicago faculty in 2013 when he proposed this concept, and were later developed through the recruitment of faculty and the creation of state-of-the-art measurement laboratories.
We are at a remarkable moment in science and engineering, where a stream of scientific discoveries are yielding new ways to create, control and communicate between quantum states of matter. Efforts in Chicago and around the world are leading to the development of fundamentally new technologies, where information is manipulated at the atomic scale and governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Transformative technologies are likely to emerge with far-reaching applications—ranging from ultra-sensitive sensors for biomedical imaging to secure communication networks to new paradigms for computation. In addition, they are making us re-think the meaning of information itself.
David Awschalom, UChicago’s Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and an Argonne Senior Scientist
This partnership will benefit from UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which supports the development of innovative businesses linked to Chicago’s South Side and UChicago. The CQE will have a firm connection with a major Hyde Park innovation project that was recently announced as the second phase of the Harper Court development on the north side of 53rd Street, and will incorporate an expansion of Polsky Center activities. This project will help in the change from laboratory discoveries to societal applications via startup initiatives and industrial collaborations.
Small and large companies are focusing on achieving a far-reaching impact with this new quantum technology. Alumni of IME’s Quantum Engineering PhD program have been signed in to work for several of these companies. The development of CQE will make room for new collaborations and linkages with governmental agencies, industry and various other academic institutions, and also support from Polsky Center for new startup ventures.
Awschalom stated that a collaborative environment for Researchers will be provided by this new quantum ecosystem in order to create technologies in which all the components of information processing, such as, communication, storage, computation and sensing, are kept in the quantum world. This contrasts with the existing mainstream computer systems, which often change electronic signals from laptop computers into light for internet transmission through fiber optics, converting them back into electronic signals when they reach their target computers, finally to become stored on hard drives as magnetic data.
A new workforce of “Quantum Engineers” is already undergoing training through IME’s Quantum Engineering program in order to meet the requirements of Universities, Government Laboratories and Industry. The program presently comprises of more than 100 Postdoctoral Scientists and Doctoral Students and eight faculty members. Quantum research is also pursued by almost 20 faculty members from UChicago’s Physical Sciences Division. These include David Schuster, Assistant Professor in Physics, who teams up with Argonne and Fermilab Researchers.
Combining strengths in quantum information
The collaboration will depend on the unique strengths of the University and the two national laboratories, both of which are based in the Chicago suburbs and have long established affiliations with the University of Chicago.
Approximately 20 Researchers, at Argonne, carry out Quantum-related research via joint appointments at the laboratory and UChicago. Fermilab has almost 25 Technicians and Scientists working on Quantum research initiatives dealing with the development of quantum algorithms, quantum computing and particle sensors.
This is a great time to invest in quantum materials and quantum information systems. We have extensive state-of-the-art capabilities in this area.
Supratik Guha, Director of Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology Division and a Professor of Molecular Engineering, UChicago
The first recognizable theoretical framework for a quantum computer was proposed by Argonne through a work performed in the early 1980s by Paul Benioff. Including joint appointees, Argonne’s present expertise spans the spectrum of Materials Science, Classical Computing, Quantum Computing and Quantum Sensing.
Approximately $6 million has already been invested by Argonne and UChicago in building comprehensive materials synthesis facilities—known as “The Quantum Factory”—at both locations. For example, Guha has installed modern deposition systems that he makes use of to layer atoms of materials required for building quantum structures.
“Together we will have comprehensive capabilities to be able to grow and synthesize one-, two- and three-dimensional quantum structures for the future,” Guha said. These structures, known as quantum bits, or qubits, serve as the building blocks for quantum sensing and quantum computing.
Argonne also has Theorists who can contribute in identifying problems in chemistry and physics that could be solved with the help of quantum computing. Argonne’s experts in systems software, operating systems and algorithms, headed by Rick Stevens, Associate Laboratory Director and UChicago Professor in Computer Science, will also play a vital role, since no quantum computer will be able to work without connecting to a classical computer.
Fermilab’s interest in quantum computing comes from the improved abilities that the technology is capable of offering within 15 years, said Joseph Lykken, Fermilab Deputy Director and Senior Scientist.
“The Large Hadron Collider experiments, ATLAS and CMS, will still be running 15 years from now,” Lykken said. “Our neutrino experiment, DUNE, will still be running 15 years from now. Computing is integral to particle physics discoveries, so advances that are 15 years away in high-energy physics are developments that we have to start thinking about right now.”
Lykken highlighted that, by definition, almost any quantum computing technology is considered to be a device with atomic-level sensitivity that could potentially be applied to sensitive particle physics experiments. An existing Fermilab-UChicago collaboration is discovering the use of quantum computing for detecting axions, refering to candidate particles for dark matter, which is an invisible mass of unknown composition that accounts for 85% of the mass of the universe.
Another collaboration with UChicago deals with producing quantum computer technology that employs photons in superconducting radio frequency cavities for error correction and data storage. These photons are light particles discharged as microwaves. Scientists are expecting the measurement and control of microwave photons to become vital components of quantum computers.
“We build the best superconducting microwave cavities in the world, but we build them for accelerators,” Lykken said. Fermilab is teaming up with UChicago in order to adapt the technology for quantum applications.
Fermilab also has collaborated with the California Institute of Technology and AT&T to produce a prototype quantum information network at the lab. Fermilab, Caltech and AT&T have long collaborated in order to competently transmit the Large Hadron Collider’s massive data sets. The project, dealing with a quantum internet demonstration of sorts, is known as INtelligent Quantum NEtworks and Technologies (INQNET).
Additionally, Fermilab is working on increasing the scale of the existing quantum computers. Fermilab is capable of contributing to this effort since quantum computers are sensitive, complicated, cryogenic devices. The laboratory has several years of experience in scaling up such devices for high-energy physics applications.
“It’s one of the main things that we do,” Lykken said.