News Release 18-058

NSF launches effort to create first practical quantum computer

$15 million grant will support multi-institution quantum research collaboration

A fabricated trap that researchers use to capture and control atomic ion qubits (quantum bits).

A fabricated trap that researchers use to capture and control atomic ion qubits (quantum bits).


August 7, 2018

From codebreaking to aircraft design, complex problems in a wide range of fields exist that even today's best computers cannot solve.

To accelerate the development of a practical quantum computer that will one day answer currently unsolvable research questions, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $15 million over five years to the multi-institution Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design (STAQ) project.

"Quantum computers will change everything about the technology we use and how we use it, and we are still taking the initial steps toward realizing this goal," said NSF Director France Córdova. "Developing the first practical quantum computer would be a major milestone. By bringing together experts who have outlined a path to a practical quantum computer and supporting its development, NSF is working to take the quantum revolution from theory to reality."

Today's quantum computers are mostly proofs of concept, demonstrating the feasibility of certain principles. While they have grown in complexity as researchers' ability to control and construct quantum systems has improved, they have not yet solved a computational problem for which the answer was unknown.

The project's integrated approach to developing a practical quantum computer relies on finding new algorithms based on optimization and scientific computing problems, improving quantum computer hardware, and developing software tools that optimize algorithm performance for the specific machine in development.

STAQ emerged from an NSF Ideas Lab, one of a series of week-long, free-form exchanges among researchers from a wide range of fields that aim to generate creative, collaborative proposals to address a given research challenge. This particular NSF Ideas Lab focused on the Practical Fully-Connected Quantum Computer challenge. STAQ will involve physicists, computer scientists and engineers from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Maryland and University of New Mexico.

The STAQ researchers will focus on four primary goals:

  • Develop a quantum computer with a sufficiently large number of quantum bits (qubits) to solve a challenging calculation.
  • Ensure that every qubit interacts with all other qubits in the system, critical for solving fundamental problems in physics.
  • Integrate software, algorithms, devices and systems engineering.
  • Involve equal input from experimentalists, theorists, engineers and computer scientists.

"The first truly effective quantum computer will not emerge from one researcher working in a single discipline," said NSF Chief Operating Officer Fleming Crim. "Quantum computing requires experts from a range of fields, with individuals applying complementary insights to solve some of the most challenging problems in science and engineering. NSF's STAQ project uniquely addresses that need, providing a cutting-edge approach that promises to dramatically advance U.S. leadership in quantum computing."

As a cross-disciplinary project, STAQ encourages convergence across research fields and aligns with The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution, one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. It is funded through NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorates.

About The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution

One of NSF's 10 Big Ideas, The Quantum Leap initiative aims to accelerate innovative research and provide a path forward for science and engineering to help solve one of the most critical, competitive and challenging issues of our time. Researchers will design, construct and analyze new approaches to quantum computing and test algorithms at a scale beyond the reach of simulations run on classical computers. Quantum research is essential for preparing future scientists and engineers to implement the discoveries of the next quantum revolution into technologies that will benefit the nation.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Joshua Chamot, NSF, 703-292-4489, email: jchamot@nsf.gov
Ken Kingery, Duke University, (919) 660-8414, email: ken.kingery@duke.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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