UO researchers collaborate on new national quantum centers

The UO is a collaborator on a newly announced engineering research center funded by a $26 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Led by the University of Arizona, the Center for Quantum Networks will lay the groundwork for the nation’s quantum information network. Along with UO physics faculty members Michael Raymer and Brian Smith, collaborating faculty at several institutions, including Harvard University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will work to demonstrate key technologies needed to create such a “quantum internet.”

“The development of a quantum internet is one of the most ambitious and transformative engineering endeavors of the 21st century,” said Raymer, a Philip H. Knight Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics.

Raymer will co-lead the UO’s efforts on the grant with Smith, who directs the Oregon Center for Optical Molecular and Quantum Science.

“The quantum internet will push the frontiers of science while potentially revolutionizing computer science, data privacy, pharmaceuticals discovery and materials design, among others,” Smith said.

The new Center for Quantum Networks is the latest in a series of important developments for UO researchers involved in quantum information research. David Allcock and Nobel laureate David Wineland, both Department of Physics faculty, are named participants in another newly announced quantum research center, Q-SEnSE: Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering, to be led by the University of Colorado.

The $25 million center, which is one of three new Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes inaugurated by NSF, will design, build and employ quantum sensing technology for a variety of applications in precision measurement.

"Quantum information science has the potential to change the world,” National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in an announcement. “But to realize that potential, we must first answer some fundamental research questions. Through the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes, NSF is making targeted investments. Within five years, we are confident these institutes can make tangible advances to help carry us into a true quantum revolution."

Quantum technology uses quantum physics principles and advanced engineering to solve real-world issues. It requires manipulating the smallest possible units of energy and matter. In recent years, countries around the world have been making major investments in quantum information science.

Raymer co-authored the original proposals for the $1.2 billion National Quantum Initiative Act, a five-to-10-year initiative that supports federal efforts to boost investment in quantum information science and develop a quantum-smart workforce. He has been a driving force behind the growth and development of quantum information science research at the UO and nationwide.

Along with Raymer, Smith, Allcock and Wineland, the UO quantum information group in the UO’s Oregon Center for Optical Molecular and Quantum Science includes researchers Steven van Enk, Andy Marcus, Hailin Wang, Benjamín Aleman, Ben McMorran and Daniel Steck.

Recent grants and announcements include:

  • Raymer, Smith and Marcus, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, received a $1 million Quantum Leap grant from the National Science Foundation to study quantum-enhanced spectroscopy of biologically important molecules.
  • Smith and Raymer are co-principle investigators in an interdisciplinary project being led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to research the possibility of quantum-enhanced telescopes funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
  • Smith, Aleman, van Enk and Wang are contributing members to a planning grant being led by the University of Washington for a second round for Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes.
  • Allcock and Wineland are co-principle investigators on a joint Army Research Office project with the Massachusetts Institue of Technology, Lincoln Laboratory and UCLA to develop a higher-performance a type of qubit, or quantum bit,  a building block of many quantum computers.

As the size and scope of quantum information research has grown and the technology has begun to find its way into real-world applications, collaboration has become a key element of many recent quantum research projects.

“When the first big wave of interest in quantum computing and quantum cryptography hit in the 1990s, the focus was on encryption and decryption of messages,” Wineland said. “The field has now mushroomed to enable methods for more precise measurement, quantum computing across communication networks, exponential increases in computing power, and methods for efficiently simulating systems, from the interactions of elementary particles to complex chemical reactions.”

The challenge that Raymer, Smith and collaborators in the quantum internet project will be addressing is how to develop a long-distance quantum communications network, a series of linked devices connected by optical fiber. Photons pass through the fiber carrying quantum bits to link quantum processors at distant locations.

But if the fibers are very long, the photons become lost along the way. The group will be seeking to develop and test “quantum repeaters” to enable high-speed communication of qubits over a long distance. Raymer and Smith and their UO research team will be focused on the testing and characterization of models developed by researchers at the University of Arizona and other partner institutions.

Raymer has also participated in quantum-technology workshops held by NASA and the Department of Energy and is co-authoring the subsequent reports, which will lead to major U.S. investments in quantum information science in space and on the ground.

Along with research, Raymer and others have been involved in developing new standards and programs to provide education and training in quantum information science to the next generation of quantum scientists. Raymer collaborated with Dev Sinha, a professor in the UO Department of Mathematics, and others to define a core set of key concepts for future quantum information science learners.

 “It’s exciting to see these successes, which are helping to shape science and technology, and we are proud of our faculty’s efforts to develop quantum science,” said Cassandra Moseley, vice president for research and innovation. “We look forward to further breakthroughs emerging from these two new national centers.”  

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications