Chicago was late to the digitization party but now has a chance to catch the quantum computing wave.

A pair of big-money federal research grants give Chicago a ground-floor opportunity in a technology many expect to transform computing. As my colleague John Pletz reported Aug. 26, Argonne and Fermilab in suburban Chicago are among five national laboratories that will get $115 million apiece for quantum computing research.

The new technology uses atomic particles to process data far faster than today’s computers using transistors. Quantum is also more secure than current technology.

Huge leaps in processing speed open up new vistas of potential applications, from rapid-fire drug development to earthquake forecasting to individualized consumer marketing. With so many commercial possibilities, big money already is flowing to quantum as companies and governments angle for an edge in the next big thing.

But real-world applications are still a ways off. First, quantum needs basics like standardized materials and processes.

That’s where Argonne and Fermilab come in. Argonne’s Q-Next initiative works with various laboratories, universities and corporations like Boeing to develop communications standards and basic materials for quantum computing.

Fermilab, meanwhile, is applying its particle physics expertise to the new technology. The lab’s Superconducting Quantum Materials Center will work to solve the unique challenges of atomic-level computing.

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