Q&A with Q-NEXT Leadership

What is Q-NEXT?

Q-NEXT is a National Quantum Information Science Research Center supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The center is led by Argonne National Laboratory and combines the expertise and resources of nearly 100 world-class researchers from three national laboratories, nine universities, and 12 leading U.S. technology companies to develop the science and technology necessary to control and distribute quantum information. This will have profound impacts on long-term U.S. economic security and competitiveness by enabling “unhackable” communication channels and by creating quantum materials, sensors, and simulators that outperform any of our current systems.

What research areas will Q-NEXT focus on and what big challenges is it looking to solve?

Q-NEXT focuses on how to reliably control, store, and transmit quantum information at distances that could be as small as a computer chip or as large as the distance between Chicago and San Francisco. Addressing this challenge requires developing new quantum materials and integrating them into devices and systems, developing new classes of ultra-precise sensors, and overcoming losses that occur when quantum information is communicated over long distances. We will also develop simulation and characterization tools that we can apply to these quantum systems.

What is quantum information science? Why is it important to the economy and the nation?

Quantum mechanics is one of the most important achievements of modern science and has enabled the development of revolutionary technologies such as the transistors that power electronics and computers, the ultrasensitive detectors used in medical imaging, and the atomic clocks in GPS satellites. Quantum information science uses the principles of quantum mechanics to open up completely new ways to collect and process information. This will allow us to overcome many of the fundamental limitations of our traditional sensing and communications networks, which are two of our focus areas in Q-NEXT. The implications of quantum information science on our economy and nation could be transformational: we are already seeing significant commercial interest arising from the promise of quantum systems to provide perfectly secure communications, novel solutions to highly complex optimization problems in finance and healthcare, more accurate measurements of physical phenomena, and far more realistic simulations of the real world.

How do quantum computing and communication differ from traditional computing and communications?

A prime example is in quantum communications, a Q-NEXT focus area. One of the nonintuitive principles of quantum mechanics is that if you try to spy on a quantum-encrypted communication, the information in the communication is corrupted and becomes unreadable. Quantum communication can, therefore, be fundamentally secure in a way that no traditional communication can. Quantum-based computers exploit these phenomena as well. For some problems, particularly in areas such as cryptanalysis, simulations of the physical world, or optimization of complex problems, quantum-based computers will perform calculations much more efficiently and accurately than traditional computers. Q-NEXT developments in quantum sensing will have several applications in quantum computing—from the testing of nanoelectronic circuits to serving as qubits (quantum bits, the basic unit of quantum information).

How will advances in quantum science and technology benefit average Americans?

Quantum information science and technology is a globally competitive field because of the enormous potential for these technologies to grow the economy and benefit citizens. Many of these benefits are predictable based on what we already know. These include the creation of unhackable communications networks, better methods of synthesizing new drugs, and faster solutions to hard problems in fields ranging from energy distribution to optimization of financial portfolios. But this is a rapidly evolving field, and we expect to identify entirely new applications that benefit people in ways that we could never envision today, just as 100 years ago the pioneers of quantum theory could never have imagined that their work would lead to microprocessors. Advances in quantum information science are likely to vastly improve our lives in the decades ahead.

How will Q-NEXT advances benefit industry? Any industries in particular?

There is growing industry interest in quantum information science from a wide range of sectors. Q-NEXT has 12 industry members, which are both participating in and helping to guide our center research. This close collaboration will enhance our effectiveness in developing transformative technologies with commercial applications and transferring them to industry to benefit the U.S. economy.

Many Q-NEXT members are interested in developing quantum hardware or systems, but we have also received significant interest from partners who may be users of technology based on quantum information science. This interest comes from corporations working in many industrial sectors, including energy, communications, chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals, financial services, aerospace, logistics, and transportation. There is a growing understanding of the potential of quantum information science to disrupt industries through fundamentally new ways of working with information. Companies want to stay informed of key developments, so they can stay ahead of the competition.

Why is collaboration important in solving quantum-related problems?

Quantum problems are diverse and multi-faceted, and it takes an equally diverse set of researchers and facilities to tackle them. Just as quantum systems are fundamentally different than their traditional counterparts, solving quantum-related challenges requires a new approach that is broader and more interconnected. Q-NEXT research spans fundamental science, devices, systems, prototypes, and applications. This is the breadth of collaboration across traditional disciplines needed to address scientific challenges of this magnitude, and undertaking such a large-scale effort can only be done through close collaboration between the public and private sectors.

What expertise will the Q-NEXT partners bring to the collaborative research effort?

Q-NEXT brings together a diverse set of expertise in basic and applied research, engineering, and technology. The Q-NEXT team includes experts in the physics and chemistry of quantum systems, material processing and device design, quantum simulations and architectures, and algorithms and programming. Our research at Q-NEXT spans fundamental science, devices, systems, prototypes, and applications. Q-NEXT industry partners will be collaborating closely on center research efforts.

Q-NEXT also has a unique array of world-class facilities made available through our university and national laboratory partners. These include DOE Office of Science User Facilities such as Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, Center for Nanoscale Materials, and Leadership Computing Facility; and SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

What are Q-NEXT foundries and what role will they play?

One of the challenges in developing new devices for quantum information systems is the lack of standardized, high-quality materials. Q-NEXT addresses this need by creating two national quantum foundries, one focused on solid-state quantum technology at Argonne in the Chicago area, and the other focused on superconducting quantum materials at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Together these foundries will act as a “quantum factory” to produce a reliable supply of pristine, standardized materials and devices that will support both known and yet-to-be-discovered quantum-enabled applications. We will also create a first-ever National Quantum Devices Database to promote the industrial development of next-generation quantum devices.

How/why is a STEM pipeline of next-generation quantum scientists and engineers important to the workforce of the future?

While we were assembling the Q-NEXT collaboration we spoke with many U.S. companies, each of which stressed the importance of developing a quantum-ready workforce that can support future U.S. competitiveness. The close collaboration between national labs, universities, and industry across Q-NEXT provides new opportunities to train the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers. For example, we will pair many of our Q-NEXT students with academic and industry mentors to give them practical experience working with industrial scientists on quantum information problems. We will also leverage some of the degree and certificate programs that have been created within the Q-NEXT partner network and use best practices from these programs to inform our plans to train a wider student body. These successful programs include academic degrees that are specific to quantum science, as well as programs like the Certificate in Quantum Science and Engineering developed at the Chicago Quantum Exchange to help existing researchers with a good fundamental base of scientific knowledge reapply that knowledge to quantum systems.


David Awschalom

Q-NEXT Director

Joanne Hewett

JoAnne Hewett

Q-NEXT Deputy Director