Quantum technology harnesses the radical power of quantum systems — such as isolated atoms, photons and electrons — to transform how we process and communicate information. But that potential can be realized only if our nation’s resources are focused in a way that helps bring quantum research from the laboratory to the marketplace.
That is why a broad group of scientists and engineers have banded together through the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) to advance a National Quantum Initiative (NQI). The NPI consortium represents the quantum science and technology communities in the U.S., with leaders from both universities and industry. The NQI will create focused Centers of Excellence for the research and technology development to support the industrial buildout of quantum technology and catalyze the creation of a quantum technology workforce.
Earlier this year, our group presented lawmakers with an action plan for a comprehensive national policy on quantum research. As a result, bipartisan quantum legislation titled the National Quantum Initiative Act has been introduced in both the House and Senate. If these measures become law, the American public stands to benefit in many ways.
Some of the potential uses for quantum technology include designing new types of materials with novel properties, synthesizing chemical compounds for applications ranging from energy to drug delivery, and optimizing difficult logistical problems such as autonomous vehicle navigation and economic modeling. Quantum technology brings the potential for cracking popular encryption standards of today, while at the same time offering new ways to share information that is fundamentally secure by the laws of quantum physics.
These advancements will be possible if legislation is passed and implemented for a unified vision and approach across government agencies, universities and the private sector. Such legislation would ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of the development of this transformational technology.
China, for example, is investing an estimated $10 billion to establish a focused quantum technology center in the city of Hefei. The European Union intends to invest at least $1.2 billion and the United Kingdom $460 million. The NQI bills introduced in the House and Senate authorize more than $1 billion for civilian research and development in U.S.-based labs. Notably, a separate bill has recently been introduced by California’s Sen. Kamala Harris, calling for investment in critical defense and security aspects of quantum technology.
To ensure success, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy must be empowered to work as equal partners under the leadership of a national coordinating committee, with critical input from the Defense Department and Intelligence Community agencies. The NQI Act directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee this cooperation.
Crucial in this effort is the development of a trained quantum workforce. An amendment added in the House Science Committee will help foster this training by, among other things, directing the involved federal agencies to fund access by researchers and students to the latest quantum hardware through a coordinated program. Thus coordinated, developers would be liberated to improve quantum algorithms and hardware. The addition of this resource-sharing program will leverage public and private investments in quantum research and technology. Expanded research at the new Centers of Excellence will also help prepare and grow the workforce.
The United States gained leadership in quantum science through ground-breaking research in academic and government labs, but the development of technologies and tools that can allow industry to design and build devices has not kept pace. The translation of quantum technology from laboratory to marketplace can be realized in the near future if adequate levels of research and funding are put in place now. Congress is already taking important steps to establish a comprehensive quantum program. It is in the economic and security interest of the country for lawmakers to pass this legislation and set in motion the next phase of quantum technology.
• Chris Monroe is chief scientist and founder of IONq and professor of Physics at the University of Maryland. Michael Raymer is professor of Physics at the University of Oregon.