ORNL, partners receive $115 million to establish Quantum Science Center


The Department of Energy has selected Oak Ridge National Laboratory to lead a collaboration charged with developing quantum technologies that will usher in a new era of innovation.

From computers exponentially more powerful than today’s leading systems to sensors with unprecedented precision, quantum technologies promise to greatly increase understanding of the world and, by extension, fundamentally transform it.

The Quantum Science Center, led by ORNL, will receive $115 million over five years from DOE’s Office of Science to realize the potential of topological quantum materials for manipulating, transferring and storing quantum information. Quantum materials exhibit exotic properties under specific conditions, and the center will transition this knowledge to the private sector for use in practical applications such as quantum computers and sensors.

The center supports the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 by enhancing America’s national security and retaining its global leadership in scientific research and development – goals that require broad expertise and capabilities.

“We pulled together a fantastic team from four national laboratories, three industry partners and nine universities to overcome key roadblocks in quantum state resilience, controllability and ultimately scalability of quantum technologies,” QSC Director and ORNL physicist David Dean said. “We are prepared to catalyze quantum materials, computing and devices research to significantly impact the national quantum ecosystem.”

The QSC’s research goals are organized around three scientific focus areas:

  • Quantum materials discovery and design, in which QSC researchers will investigate and exploit the novel properties of topological materials for computing.
  • Quantum algorithms and simulations, in which QSC researchers will develop and test algorithms for quantum computers and sensors.
  • Quantum devices and sensors for discovery science, in which QSC researchers will co-design new quantum devices and sensors with unprecedented performance for real-world applications in the DOE domain.

This co-design philosophy is at the heart of the QSC’s research model. By engaging stakeholders from its inception, the center will ensure resulting advances meet the needs of the private sector and American research communities.

“Our scientific goals rely on a co-design process to maximize the impact and readiness of new quantum devices, quantum simulations and quantum sensors within the next five years,” said Travis Humble, QSC deputy director and head of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Quantum User Program. “We have prioritized engagement with U.S. industry to identify near-term opportunities to develop quantum technologies that will ensure long-term economic competitiveness.”

Also integral to the QSC’s mission is the development of the next generation of scientists and engineers. By engaging students and post-doctoral associates in research activities at partnering institutions, the center will offer a rich environment for cultivating the expertise necessary to ensure America leads the quantum revolution.

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As headquarters for the QSC, ORNL will leverage its quantum research program, which dates back nearly two decades, and the expertise of 25 staff members dedicated to advancing the state of the art in quantum information science. The laboratory set the record for quantum information transfer in 2017 and partnered with industry to demonstrate quantum supremacy – the notion that a quantum computer could outperform a classical computer – in October 2019.

“Our goal is to build a research team representing diverse scientific and engineering disciplines and to focus their capabilities on advances in materials, computing and technology development,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. “We are honored by this award and look forward to the Quantum Science Center’s contributions to U.S. economic competitiveness, national security and scientific leadership.”

Partner organizations include California Institute of Technology, or Caltech; ColdQuanta; Fermilab; Harvard University; IBM; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Microsoft; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Princeton University; Purdue University; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Maryland; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and University of Washington.

The QSC is one of five multidisciplinary National Quantum Information Science Research Centers supported by the DOE’s Office of Science.

Total planned funding for the center is $115 million over five years, with $15 million in fiscal year 2020 dollars and outyear funding contingent on appropriations.

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