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MIT Better World

By Joelle Carson

In what’s considered the first quantum revolution of the 20th century, scientists observed quantum properties that enabled development of technologies such as lasers, the transistor, magnetic resonance imaging, and semiconductors.

The second quantum revolution is happening right now. Experts at MIT are poised to move from observation to actualization, realizing new quantum technologies that change the game in a wide range of fields.

“One of the aspects that I find most rewarding in quantum science and technology research is the strong link between fundamental research and its potential applications,” says Paola Cappellaro PhD ’06, the Ford Professor of Engineering, professor of nuclear science and engineering and physics, and leader of the MIT Quantum Engineering Group. “Fundamental advances in understanding quantum information and in developing novel technology and materials have led to remarkable achievements at a pace that I would have not anticipated when I began my doctoral studies.”

Cappellaro directs Quantum@MIT, a new effort bringing together quantum-related programs to bridge fundamental discovery and impactful technology. As the field evolves and branches into more widespread applications, she says, a unified approach is needed in both research and education. “A key priority of Quantum@MIT will be to consolidate existing educational offerings, fill gaps, and broaden their appeal to a larger set of students, in light of the need for both a quantum-industry workforce and a quantum-savvy workforce in other sectors,” she says.

This effort, she says, is critical to MIT’s continued leadership in quantum research and to further the development of transformative quantum technologies and devices. Researchers at MIT, including at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a vital partner that is addressing multiple aspects of quantum research, are poised to take on the challenge. “To truly achieve the full power of quantum devices, in particular quantum computers, we still need the further breakthroughs that will happen only with a continued investment in basic research,” she says. The following showcases just a few examples of how MIT researchers are leading quantum research—and where we’re headed in the next quantum revolution.


Quantum sensing collects data with quantum systems—highly accurate sensors are the most realized quantum technology at work today, facilitating advances in navigation, bioimaging, and materials such as batteries.

Diamond in the rough

Quantum spins in diamond are an excellent platform for sensing, reaching sensitivities and spatial resolutions that cannot be matched by more conventional, “classical” technologies. Guoqing Wang PhD ’23 seeks new discoveries on the use of diamond spin as quantum sensors. “Our next step is to dig more deeply into the physics to better understand the underlying physical mechanism,” he says. “With this knowledge, we hope to explore more quantum simulation and sensing ideas, such as simulating interesting quantum hydrodynamics and even transporting quantum information between different spin defects.”

Quantum simulation

Wolfgang Ketterle, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics, received the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics for producing a Bose-Einstein condensate (the fifth state of matter obtained when gas particles are cooled to almost absolute zero). This achievement, which has led to advancements in precision measurement and sensing technologies as well as the development of atom lasers, laid the groundwork for quantum simulation as well. These simulations—exponentially more accurate than current computational models— have the potential to become a proving ground for new materials or chemistry, for example, that will lead to yet-unseen technological innovation in fields such as medicine and climate change.

Cold atoms control

A stalwart pillar for quantum progress, the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms works to enable greater control and programmability of quantum-entangled systems of low-temperature atoms and molecules. Researchers experiment with quantum gases of atoms and molecules to discover potential for new applications in measurement, sensing, and networking, seeking to measure and control the behavior of atoms. Using quantum simulations makes this work possible—and in turn, much of the resulting research improves the process of quantum simulation itself.

Quantum information processing

“Quantum advantage,” a key factor in the evolution of the field, refers to cases in which quantum computers can perform calculations beyond the capacity of our current computers. As quantum devices become more sophisticated, that advantage broadens. MIT researchers like physics professor Aram Harrow ’01, PhD ’05 are drawing from different areas of quantum studies to expand and improve quantum advantage, including the exploration of communication complexity and quantum algorithms to help understand the scaling of entanglement in many-body quantum systems.

A pioneer of quantum engineering

The MIT Center for Quantum Engineering (CQE) is one of only a handful of quantum engineering programs in the world, bridging computer science, mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering. William D. Oliver, the Henry Ellis Warren Professor of electrical engineering and professor of physics, directs the CQE. “This new discipline is quintessentially MIT, deeply rooted in both science and engineering,” he says. “As part of the broader Quantum@MIT, the CQE and its industry membership group engage researchers across the Institute to define quantum engineering, accelerating practical application of quantum technologies for the betterment of humankind.”

Secure communication

In telecommunications, electronic devices known as repeaters receive a signal and transmit it. Quantum sensing and computing elements need to communicate with each other over distances ranging from 10 micrometers—about the size of a human hair—to hundreds of kilometers, all while maintaining quantum coherence. Researchers are successfully using quantum repeaters to develop longer-distance, secure transfer of information. In fact, MIT, Harvard, and Lincoln Laboratory have used optical fiber to connect the three campuses over a distance of 43 kilometers.

Superconducting quantum computers

The Cecil and Ida Green Professor in Physics Pablo Jarillo Herrero and his research team discovered the “magic angle” that turns oneatom- wide graphene sheets into either insulators or superconductors, and they continue to innovate with this uniquely powerful material. The group’s recent findings could serve as a blueprint for designing practical, room temperature superconductors, which could make quantum computing more accessible.


Quantum computing may greatly improve simulations leading to new chemistry or materials that could be used for climate solutions; examples include batteries, solar cells, and more efficient chemical reactions. Pervasive sensing facilitated by these computations will lead to better measurements, providing information about subtle shifts in our climate and the drivers of those changes.

New energy applications

Sahil Pontula ’23, a Hertz Foundation fellowship recipient and PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science, researches the use of nonlinear and quantum optics to generate reliable sources of macroscopic quantum states of light, which could revolutionize existing quantum information and sensing platforms. He also has a passion for finding climate solutions, and he is working to harness the power of quantum optics and nanophotonics (a branch of nanotechnology) for energy applications such as enhanced batteries and devices that convert light to electricity.

Health care

The capabilities of quantum sensors continue to make rapid progress and hold near-term promise, particularly for biological applications.

Developing more effective drugs

Haoyang “Oscar” Wu, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and a Takeda Fellow, integrates quantum chemistry and deep-learning methods in his research to accelerate the process of small-molecule screening in the development of new drugs. Wu’s research could help to transform and accelerate the drug-discovery process, offering new hope to patients and health care providers.

A quantum-ready workforce

MIT leads the effort to prepare students and professionals for the next quantum revolution: enrollment is open on MIT xPRO courses like Quantum Computing Fundamentals, a course designed for leaders of industry and government, and integrative measures through Quantum@MIT will create more interdisciplinary quantum programming. “Advancing the frontiers of research is just one part of the equation when it comes to quantum science and technology,” says Cappellaro. “Equally critical is the development of a skilled workforce for the current and future quantum industry.”

Steering quantum policy

MIT professors and Institute leaders are not only using their expertise to shape MIT’s quantum research discoveries—their advisory roles extend to national policy that are shaping what quantum technology will become and ensure it will be used to benefit all people. Oliver, Maria Zuber, MIT’s Presidential Advisor for Science and Technology Policy and E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics, and other MIT faculty are playing an increasing role in new legislations and regulations being proposed around quantum technologies, and the resources and research community at MIT is one reason they are able to do so.