NC State researchers collaborate as part of Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation
Researchers in NC State’s Departments of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering will collaborate with colleagues at other mid-Atlantic universities to help develop quantum simulation devices that can understand, and thereby exploit, the rich behavior of complex quantum systems.
The Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation, led by the University of Maryland (UMD), brings together computer scientists, engineers and physicists from five academic institutions and the federal government. Funded by a $25 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), researchers in the institute will develop theoretical concepts, design innovative hardware, and provide education and training for a suite of novel simulation devices that can predict and understand quantum phenomena.
Andrew Childs, a UMD professor of computer science and co-director of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, is the lead principal investigator of the NSF award and will serve as director of the new institute. Frank Mueller, professor in NC State’s Department of Computer Science, and Greg Byrd and Huiyang Zhou, professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will partner with the other awardees of the institute.
NC State will receive $1.125 million from NSF over five years to fund research on auto-generation of approximate quantum circuits and their simulation; verification of quantum simulations; domain-specific quantum software; co-design of simulation for quantum topologies of tomorrow; and education and workforce development in electrical and computer engineering and computer science.
Quantum simulation is a fundamental step toward realizing a world where general-purpose quantum computers can transform medicine, break encryption and revolutionize communications. Even the most powerful of today’s “classical” computers struggle to represent even relatively small quantum systems, an obstacle that could be overcome by building next-generation quantum simulators.
“Quantum simulation is arguably the most compelling application of quantum computers,” Childs said. “Through dedicated research, education and outreach, we will nurture the quantum simulation community and provide a sharp focus on new discoveries and applications involving quantum simulation.”
In addition to faculty members, postdocs and students from Maryland and NC State, the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation will include quantum experts from Duke University, Princeton University, and Yale University, as well as researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The researchers believe that by evaluating the best approaches to small-scale quantum simulation, they can provide a detailed blueprint for what could be early practical applications for quantum computers. They have identified three major scientific challenges to focus their efforts on: methods for verifying the correctness of simulations, the interaction of simulators with their environments, and the development of scalable quantum simulators for science and technology applications.
To do this, the researchers plan to explore the theoretical foundations of quantum algorithms and error correction—in conjunction with experimental implementations of reconfigurable quantum simulators—on four leading hardware platforms: trapped ions, arrays of Rydberg atoms, quantum photonics with solid-state defects and superconducting circuits.
They envision tight collaboration between theoretical and experimental approaches to co-design near-term simulation protocols with current and next-generation devices. This includes the joint development of optical and microwave control techniques across different experimental platforms, allowing for rapid advances in system size and controllability.
NC State efforts in quantum computing include an IBM Quantum Hub based on Centennial Campus. IBM Quantum Hubs are part of a worldwide community of leading Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing. NC State was the first university-based IBM Quantum Hub in North America.
The ongoing mission of the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation will also include a strong educational component. Plans call for a new flagship conference on quantum simulation and other outreach and education programs that engage diverse groups of students in quantum science, including partnerships with Morgan State University and NC State.
Faculty members in the new institute also plan to introduce cross-disciplinary undergraduate specializations in quantum information and provide quantum information training for postgraduates and professionals.
The creation of this institute is the latest in a series of federal grants establishing a cohort of Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes nationwide. Three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes launched last year, with the Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation and the Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Quantum Sensing in Biophysics and Bioengineering—led by the University of Chicago—being funded in 2021.
With science currently undergoing a quantum revolution, NSF is leading the charge through large-scale investments into centers that further the understanding of basic quantum phenomena, fundamental discoveries that will translate into transformative technologies.
“Our Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes program is developing the foundation of quantum information sciences, as well as developing the future students, faculty, startups and industry partners who are engaged in it,” said Sean L. Jones, NSF assistant director of mathematical and physical sciences. “These two new institutes are tapping into challenging fields that have the potential to develop the next generation of tools that will establish the United States at the forefront of quantum innovation.”
The NSF propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.