While most of the news in 2020 was dominated by the pandemic and politics, there was also a significant amount of excitement in the quantum field. Quantum information science had a banner year in the U.S. with federal agencies awarding more than $700M to support large-scale scientific endeavors, significant advancements in quantum information science, and the launch of programs that will help the nation retain global leadership in this critical field. As we move into 2021, we look back at some of the Chicago Quantum Exchange’s most significant milestones and advancements.

Cornered the market on federal centers and institutes
In summer 2020, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced $700M in funding to quantum information science centers and institutes through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Three out of those eight new centers were awarded to Chicago Quantum Exchange member institutions.

  • Two DOE Quantum Information Science Research Centers, each funded at $115M
    • Q-NEXT, led by Argonne National Laboratory
    • Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center (SQMS), led by Fermilab
  • Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN) an NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Each of these Illinois-led federal centers engages dozens of researchers and students across CQE universities, national laboratories and industry partners.

Laid the foundation for a quantum internet
In early 2020, Argonne National Laboratory announced that it sent entangled particles through the ‘quantum loop’, a 52-mile long-distance testbed running through the Chicago suburbs. The quantum loop is one of the longest ground-based quantum communication channels in the country and will be critical for a national quantum internet – a new, ultra-secure communications network – that the DOE announced their blueprints for at an event this summer at the University of Chicago. Advancing the quantum loop and working toward a national quantum internet both promise to be significant projects in 2021, with a planned extension of the quantum loop and a bill in the U.S. House that would authorize $100 million to DOE’s Office of Science to support the development of the national quantum network.

Engaged a global audience through virtual programming
This year brought a significant increase in engagement for the Chicago Quantum Exchange. In November, the first virtual Chicago Quantum Summit attracted more than 1,000 attendees from across 42 countries. Federal leaders, quantum entrepreneurs, tech investors, and leaders of all of the new national centers and institutes discussed their organizations’ priorities, what’s next for the field, and challenges they faced in these unexpected times. Recorded sessions are now available.

Expanded our network: 20 corporate partners in 2020
The Chicago Quantum Exchange’s network of corporate partners grew significantly this year – both in number and scope. In 2020, the Chicago Quantum Exchange added 13 new companies to its network, for a total of 20 corporate partners. Rounding out this year’s additions are brand new partners Verizon, one of the world’s leading providers of telecommunications, information and entertainment products and services; and TOPTICA Photonics, which develops and manufactures high-end laser systems for scientific and industrial applications. The Chicago Quantum Exchange and Verizon are exploring opportunities to advance secure communications. TOPTICA is already partnering with researchers at Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN), an NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is collaborating with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory. With this year’s additions, CQE corporate partners include companies that focus on developing quantum devices and platforms, protocols and algorithms, applications and related enabling technologies, as well as companies that are end users of quantum technologies. This promises to be a continued trend as more companies work to understand, and to harness, the potential of quantum technology for their clients.

Advanced quantum science: Tailor-made qubits, increased coherence times, and unexpected observations and measurements
Significant technological advances and innovations this year by scientists at Chicago Quantum Exchange’s member institutions could pave the way for next-generation quantum technology. Several of the year’s scientific advancements are included below.

  • Creating tailor-made qubits: An interdisciplinary team of physicists and chemists at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University developed a new method to create tailor-made qubits by chemically synthesizing molecules that encode quantum information into their magnetic, or “spin,” states. This new bottom-up approach could ultimately lead to quantum systems that have extraordinary flexibility and control.
  • Communication between distant atoms: A group of University of Wisconsin­–Madison physicists has identified conditions under which relatively distant atoms communicate with each other in ways that had previously only been seen in atoms closer together — a development that could have applications to quantum computing. The findings open up new prospects for generating entangled atoms.
  • Making quantum states last 10,000 times longer: A team of scientists at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering announced the discovery of a simple modification that allows quantum systems to stay operational—or “coherent”—10,000 times longer than before.
  • Measurements on a rare superconductor: Measurements by scientists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed evidence for the presence of exotic Majorana particles on the surface of an unconventional superconductor, Uranium ditelluride. By better understanding this rare kind of superconductivity, scientists may eventually be able to manipulate the exotic quasiparticles in a useful way for quantum information science.

Launched new programs and grew existing efforts to develop a capable quantum workforce
Training and education were key focus areas for the Chicago Quantum Exchange in 2020. There was increased engagement with existing quantum training programs this year: The Quantum Information Science and Engineering Network (QISE-NET) added 43 graduate students this year, for a program total of 63. An IBM postdoctoral training program added several new fellows, and the consortium saw a significant jump in internship and career opportunities within the Chicago Quantum Exchange network. UChicago and the Chicago Quantum Exchange also held their first retraining Certificate Program in Quantum Science and Technology, which engaged 34 classically trained scientists and engineers interested in better understanding quantum information science and its applications.

Funding was awarded in 2020 to several Chicago Quantum Exchange institutions to undertake new programs to revolutionize, enhance and expand quantum education across the country:

  • Q2Work, an NSF-funded program led by the Grainger College of Engineering’s Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center (IQUIST) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and UChicago’s Department of Computer Science will focus on key concepts in quantum information science, providing digital tools for learners and educators, identifying internship, outreach opportunities and career information, and enabling the creation of new tools and materials for teaching quantum science in both the classroom and other locations.
  • QuSTEAM: A new multi-institutional program funded by the NSF Convergence Accelerator, aims to change how quantum information science and technology is taught throughout the United States. Program leaders include scientists from institutions from across the Midwest, including UChicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and industry and national laboratory partners, including Applied Materials, HRL Laboratories, IBM and Argonne National Laboratory.

Learn more about all of the Chicago Quantum Exchange’s science advancements, announcements, and programs.