Leaders of global quantum ecosystem come together at Chicago Quantum Summit

The fourth annual Chicago Quantum Summit brought together more than 20 speakers from across the nation and around the world on Nov. 4, 2021 to discuss the future of quantum information science and engineering.

The fourth annual Chicago Quantum Summit brought together more than 20 speakers from across the nation and around the world on Nov. 4, 2021 to discuss the future of quantum information science and engineering. More than 120 participants attended in person on the University of Chicago campus, while more than 300 participants from 23 countries around the world attended virtually.

The summit was hosted by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, an intellectual hub based at the University of Chicago and anchored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, and industry partners to advance quantum information science and engineering.

“We find ourselves at this astonishing moment where a completely new technology ecosystem is emerging,” said University of Chicago president Paul Alivisatos at the opening of the Summit. “As we build this new ecosystem, we should be mindful of how its benefits can flow to help a broad range of our society. Building this new world will be part of helping to lift all of our communities.”

Prioritizing quantum research and collaboration across nations

Three years ago, the National Science and Technology Council wrote a national strategy for quantum information science, said Charles Tahan, assistant director for Quantum Information Science and director of the National Quantum Coordination Office at the White House Office of Science and Technology.

Six priorities were highlighted in that strategy: science, infrastructure, workforce, industry, security, and international cooperation. Collaboration across nations has only increased since then. On Nov. 4, the same day as the Summit, Tahan noted, the United States signed a joint statement of intent to enhance cooperation on quantum information science and technology with the United Kingdom. On Nov. 17, they signed a similar joint statement with Australia.

Australia, the UK, and the US also recently developed a global partnership, which was noted at the Summit by Australia’s Chief Scientist Cathy Foley. “Quantum was actually highlighted by the Australian government as one of the handful of key technologies that are shaping Australia's future,” she said. “Australia is keen to be a partner and collaborate and be part of the global quantum ecosystem.”

Around the world, countries continue to make quantum research a priority. In the Netherlands, collaborative hub Quantum Delta NL was awarded $615 million over seven years from the Dutch government, with objectives to scale up the number of start-up companies, engineers, and large corporate R&D labs by 2027.

“It's really about the ecosystem,” said Jesse Robbers, Executive Board member and director of industry and digital infrastructure at Quantum Delta NL. “It's about the ecosystem that is using the infrastructure today, but also the digital infrastructure of tomorrow.”

Commercializing quantum technology at all levels

The Summit hosted six quantum startup founders, who together make up the first cohort of the quantum accelerator Duality. Their discussion highlighted the ways in which programs like Duality can help smooth the transition from laboratory to business.

“I believe it takes a village to raise a small company,” said Keith Evans, CEO and co-founder of Great Lakes Crystal. “I'm very, very lucky to be part of the Michigan State University startup ecosystem, and now Duality, where there are seasoned experts in all aspects of business and technology.”

Vanessa Chan, chief commercialization officer and director of the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) in the Department of Energy, also emphasized the need for collaboration and strong networks between research and industry.

“At the DOE, we know that high connectivity enables innovation,” she said. “We also know that business models will be different for quantum computers, and they will not evolve the same way as what the Mac or the PC did. By not making assumptions and staying curious, we're expanding the impact of our federal goal by leveraging our convenient ability to facilitate interactions and demonstrations that help uncover those often nuanced but very high-magnitude barriers.”

Understanding the impact of public and private investment

Paul Dabbar, CEO and co-founder of Bohr Quantum Technology, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Columbia University, and former Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy, noted that the quantum company IonQ raised $650 million from their IPO, which is more than the $625 million distributed between multiple government agencies through the National Quantum Initiative Act.

Dabbar also highlighted the potential effects on the field if several pending pieces of legislation are passed: the US Innovation and Competition Act, the next major round of general government funding for quantum, which has been approved by the US Senate; and the Quantum Network Infrastructure Act (QNI), which was introduced in the US House of Representatives this year.

In April, the DOE announced a plan to provide $25 million toward the development of a quantum internet. In contrast, the QNI Act would provide $100 million every year for five years. “Twenty-five million in a fiscal year doesn't get you very far to build quantum networks,” Dabbar said, “but it was a start, and that's how you do things in Washington. You start small and then you try to build momentum. And [the QNI Act] would be momentum: the quantum networks in this country would get a giant jump if that bill gets passed.”

Developing strategies to create a diverse workforce

Later in the Summit, a panel of five experts in quantum education highlighted the need to expand science opportunities at younger levels of education to encourage a diverse class of students interested in quantum science.

“If you were to walk into a K-12 classroom, you would see diversity, and I see that every day,” said Karen Jo Matsler, assistant professor of practice at the University of Texas Arlington. “And when I go to the university, it's a different picture. I ask myself the same question that everyone's been asking all along: why is there this gap? If you really want, in my opinion, to get a diverse workforce out there, if you want to increase that pipeline, you need to look back, because you have so many opportunities in the K-12 institutions.”

That’s important, since the number of quantum job postings keeps growing, said Doug Finke, publisher and managing editor of the Quantum Computing Report.

 “It's going to continue going up, I think, for the rest of the decade,” he said.