September 1, 2020

Quantum technology is expected to transform our world – from the creation of ultra-fast and powerful quantum computers, to sensors capable of detecting the movement of a single atom, to communication networks that can’t be hacked.

And Chicago appears to be at the center of this quantum acceleration, with the Department of Energy announcing last week that two of five new national quantum research centers will be in the Chicago area – at Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab. Each will receive $115 million over the next five years to further their research.

David Awschalom, senior scientist at Argonne who also leads the Quantum Exchange at the University of Chicago, says Chicago’s position in the field of quantum research is analogous to Silicon Valley some 30 years ago.

“It’s a combination of thoughtful planning and serendipity,” says Awschalom.

To build quantum technologies you need atomic scale precision tools to understand and manipulate information. And fortunately for the Chicago area the presence of Fermilab and Argonne, as well as world-class research universities, means that Chicago is “perfectly positioned to drive this field,” says Awschalom.

Add to that the fact that the University of Illinois has one of the world’s best engineering programs and Awschalom says that “when you put all of those things together Chicago is positioned to be and has become a global leader in quantum engineering.”

The Fermilab-led quantum research center, called the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center, or SQMS, aims to use the Department of Energy money to build a “beyond-state-of-the art” quantum computer using superconducting technologies.

“Compared to a classical computer, quantum computers promise to have more computational ability, more computational power. And that’s because they take advantage of very – in a sense very counterintuitive to our minds – principles that are called superposition and entanglement,” says Anna Grassellino, senior scientist and deputy chief technology officer at Fermilab and director of the SQMS center.

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