This article originally appeared on MIT News on August 31, 2020.
Early this year, the US Department of Energy sent out a call for proposals as it announced it would award up to $625 million in funding over the next five years to establish multidisciplinary National Quantum Information Science (QIS) Research Centers. These awards would support the National Quantum Initiative Act, passed in 2018 to accelerate the development of quantum science and information technology applications.
Now, MIT is a partner institute on two QIS Research Centers that the Department of Energy has selected for funding.
One of the centers, the Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage (C2QA), will be led by Brookhaven National Laboratory. MIT participation in this center will be coordinated by Professor Isaac Chuang through the Center for Theoretical Physics.
The other center, the Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA), will be led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory are partners on this center. Professor William Oliver, a Lincoln Laboratory fellow and director of the Center for Quantum Engineering, and Eric Dauler, who leads the Quantum Information and Integrated Nanosystems Group at Lincoln Laboratory, will coordinate MIT research activities with this center.
“Quantum information science and engineering research is a core strength at MIT, ranging broadly from algorithms and molecular chemistry to atomic and superconducting qubits, as well as quantum gravity and the foundations of computer science. This new funding from the Department of Energy will connect ongoing vibrant MIT research in quantum information with teams seeking to harness and discover quantum technologies,” says Chuang.
Devices based on the mysterious phenomena of quantum physics have begun to reshape the technology landscape. In recent years, researchers have been pursuing advanced quantum systems, like those that could lead to tamper-proof communications systems and computers that could tackle problems today’s machines would need billions of years to solve.
The foundational expertise, infrastructure, and resources that MIT will bring to both QIS research centers is expected to help accelerate the development of such quantum technologies.
“Much of the theoretical and algorithmic foundation for quantum information science, as well as early experimental implementations, were developed at MIT. The QIS research centers build on this experience and the broader landscape. It is fantastic that MIT is participating with two centers, and this reflects our strength and breadth,” says Oliver.
Each QIS research center incorporates a collaborative research team spanning multiple scientific and engineering disciplines and multiple institutions. Both centers are focused on pushing quantum computers “beyond-NISQ,” the acronym referring to today’s generation of noisy intermediate-scale quantum systems. The long-term goal is to develop a “universal” quantum computer, the kind that can perform computational tasks that would be practically impossible for traditional supercomputers to solve. To get there, researchers face enormous challenges in creating and controlling the perfect conditions for large numbers of quantum bits (qubits) to interact and store information long enough to perform calculations.
“Unlike most previous efforts, contributors from the algorithm, quantum computing, and quantum engineering areas will all need to work together to achieve the community’s acceleration toward this ambitious goal,” says John Chiaverini, a principal investigator in the Quantum Information and Integrated Nanosystems Group.
In their partnership with the QSA, RLE and Lincoln Laboratory researchers will focus their efforts on co-designing fundamental engineering approaches, with the goal of enabling larger programmable quantum systems built from neutral atoms, trapped ions, and superconducting qubits. “Advancing all three hardware approaches to quantum computation within a coordinated, center-scale effort will enable uniquely collaborative development efforts and a deeper understanding of the fundamental quantum engineering constraints,” says Dauler. As larger systems are realized, they will be used by researchers throughout the center to feed quantum science research.
“We look forward to further strengthening our research collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the partner universities to create many advances in quantum information science through the Quantum Systems Accelerator,” says Lincoln Laboratory Director Eric Evans.
At the C2QA, experts in QIS, materials science, computer science, and theory will focus on the superconducting qubit modality and work together to resolve performance issues with quantum computers by simultaneously co-designing software and hardware. Through these parallel efforts, the team will understand and control material properties to extend “coherence” time, or how long the qubits can function; design devices to generate more robust qubits; optimize algorithms to target specific scientific applications; and develop error-correction solutions.
MIT’s cutting-edge facilities will bolster these collaborations. Lincoln Laboratory has the Microelectronics Laboratory, an ISO-9001-certified facility for fabricating advanced circuits for superconducting and trapped-ion quantum bit applications, and MIT.nano offers more than 20,000 square feet of clean-room space for making and testing quantum devices.
“I’m excited by the opportunity the research centers offer to collaborate, and to better advance the state of knowledge and technology in the quantum area. Specifically, the collaboration offers a new avenue for the US quantum information science community to access the unique design, fabrication, and testing capabilities at MIT and Lincoln Laboratory, including the Microelectronics Laboratory and numerous laboratories specializing in advanced packaging and testing,” says Robert Atkins, who leads the Advanced Technology Division overseeing quantum computing research at Lincoln Laboratory.
Participation in both centers will complement other major programs that MIT has initiated in recent years, including the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, which aims to advance artificial intelligence hardware, software, and algorithms; the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, which spans all five of MIT’s schools; and the most-recently established Center for Quantum Engineering out of RLE and Lincoln Laboratory.
In addition to selecting these two MIT-affiliated centers, the Department of Energy announced funding for three additional QIS research centers. These investments, according to the department, represent a long-term, large-scale commitment of US scientific and technological resources to a highly competitive and promising new area of investigation, with enormous potential to transform science and technology.
“The QIS research centers will assure that advances in fundamental research in quantum science will progress to practical applications to benefit national security and many other segments of society,” says MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber. “The pace of discovery in this field is rapid, and the combined strengths of campus and Lincoln Laboratory are very well-aligned to lead in this area.”