Written by Eugenia Williamson
University of Chicago professor Hannes Bernien has been in the field of quantum research for over a decade.
In that time, he has witnessed a steady and powerful change: While quantum technology was once the exclusive domain of academia and government labs, now financial services, telecom, consulting, logistics, biotech, and other industries are racing to enter the quantum space. This shift has triggered the sudden need for a large pool of highly skilled talent in the quantum market.
“Quantum information science is a really hot field right now. Industry is booming. There are so many career paths in quantum that did not exist when I was in school, and it is very clear that the demand in the quantum workforce is not met,” Bernien says.
This fall, Bernien will join other leading quantum researchers from UChicago and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as instructors for a newly-launched certificate in Quantum Science, Networking, and Communications, an online course designed to enlist early-career computer scientists, engineers, and other tech workers in the quantum field. This new course builds upon a successful quantum certificate program launched in 2020 to help develop a broad and diverse workforce.
“Because there is such a huge demand, quantum career paths now start much earlier,” he says. “Now, if I try to find postdoc researchers, or even PhD students, I am competing with Google. To be successful in this field does not require a PhD—you just need solid engineering skills plus some understanding of quantum.”
The seven-week certificate in Quantum Science, Networking, and Communications is UChicago’s second quantum certificate. In 2020, the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) and the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE) "launched the Certificate Programs in Quantum Engineering and Technology with a four-day intensive course in Quantum Science and Engineering for advanced professionals with training in the classical sciences.
The new certificate course, offered in partnership with the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN), will meet from October 4 through November 20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. to accommodate the widest range of working people with the right skill set. Building on UChicago’s focus to help drive innovation inclusivity through its existing partnerships, a small number of scholarships will be available for recent Chicago State University graduates.
Meeting Quantum Industry Need
The certificate course plans to develop these skills with “a mix of theory and experiments,” says program instructor Eric Chitambar, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering and Thrust Lead at Q-NEXT, a Department of Energy National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by Argonne National Laboratory.
Chitambar, who researches quantum communication and protocols, information theory, and optical physics, helped design demonstrations, simulations, and other experiments where certificate students will use the same technology he uses in his own lab. He says the quantum networking curriculum has been set up to benefit a broad range of backgrounds: “If they already work at a tech company or a communications company, they have the necessary background,” he says.
The coursework, like the program itself, centers on current industry need. “We had industry personnel as part of our curriculum development team, so we were able to identify and target actual quantum challenges that companies are facing,” Chitambar says.
He notes that the course is taught by some of the world's leading experts. Hannes Bernien and Tian Zhong are scientists actively working to build quantum networking infrastructure in the United States. The instruction team features both experimentalists and theorists such as Chitambar and Bryan Clark, allowing the course to cover hardware as well as the basic theory of quantum information processing.
“The key feature of our certificate course is that it is geared toward quantum communication in quantum networks,” Chitambar says. “Other courses give a general introduction to quantum computing for anyone, but ours asks what type of challenges are unique to communicating quantum systems and how you get different types of different qubits to talk to one another.”
Bringing Tech—and Talent—to Market
Bernien and his colleagues endeavor to bolster the ranks of the quantum workforce by grounding students in the fundamentals of quantum theory while giving them direct experience with the latest quantum networking technology. The coursework, Bernien stresses, will require only a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like physics, computer science, or electrical engineering to understand. No quantum background is necessary.
“We made it as accessible as possible,” he says. “It gives students the opportunity to learn about the physics behind quantum information science and the possible career pathways in the quantum field—and to develop the skills important to working in the field that maybe they already have.”
For his part, Bernien is “hugely excited” to teach this new workforce about quantum networks. “We will address how to transfer quantum states over large distances and address applications of these distributed quantum states in quantum cryptography, quantum sensing, and quantum computation.”
Equally important, he says, is getting people in front of the cutting-edge quantum information systems and hardware driving the quantum industry rapidly ahead and seeing what they can do.
“Some quantum information technologies are already more mature and close to application—quantum key distribution, using quantum phenomena to securely pass on a key, is a product you can buy right now,” he says. “Our program will give a very solid foundation in quantum information science and quantum computing, but also show all the directions quantum is going in, already tangible and close to market.”
Learn more about the course