Professor Peter Kogge from Notre Dame, Professor Gerardo Ortiz from Indiana University and Dr. David Stewart, managing director of the Purdue quantum science and engineering institute are interviewed by Yuval Boger. They talk about the new Center for Quantum Technologies, a multi-site NSF-funded research center, which commercial sponsors are participating in the center and what they expect to get from it, the diverse faculty and students that participate in quantum research and much more.

Transcript

Yuval Boger: Hello, David. Hello, Peter. Hello, Gerardo. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Gerardo Ortiz: Thank you.

David Stewart: Thanks for having us.

Yuval: Who are you, and what do you do?

Gerardo: My name is Gerardo Ortiz, and I am a Professor of Physics at Indiana University, also the Scientific Director of the Quantum Science and Engineering Center and the Site Director of the Center for Quantum Technologies.

David: I’m David Stewart. I’m the Managing Director of the Purdue Quantum Science and Engineering Institute, and I am also serving as the Industry Liaison Officer for this new Center for Quantum Technologies.

Peter Kogge: I’m Peter Kogge. I’m a retired IBM Fellow, and I’ve been at Notre Dame for over 25 years as the McCourtney Professor of Computer Science, and I’m Director of the Notre Dame Site of the CQT.

Yuval: Excellent. This sounds like a multi-university center, Center for Quantum Technologies, I think Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana. David, how did this come about? How did this center start, and how long did it take to set it up?

David: It is, as you mentioned, a three-university partnership between Purdue and Notre Dame, and Indiana, which Indiana involves both the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses. This started almost three years ago. We sort of got this idea in our head, saw this opportunity through NSF, and really began again working on it. We already had good ties across the three universities being so close to each other in the State of Indiana, and started working on it from there. It’s been a somewhat laborious process, but we’ve made it all the way to the end. We just got the official word from NSF about a month ago that the full phase one center has been funded, which will be for five years.

Yuval: Fantastic. Peter and then maybe Gerardo, what is the division of labor between the various universities? Do you all do the same thing, or is one university focused more, say, on communications, whereas the others are more on computing? How does that work?

Peter: In terms of research areas, we all pretty well overlap. In each site, it’s not just the director, but there’s a whole cadre of people from multiple departments who are interested in quantum, and a lot of them are drawing on pre-existing collaborations across universities. This isn’t, “Hi, my name is.” It’s more of, we’ve worked together before, and there’s now the opportunity to look at some really new and neat problems.

Gerardo: Absolutely, there are quantum strengths in all partner universities, and the overall idea is to coordinate those efforts to essentially realize the whole being more than the sum of its constituent parts. That’s our ultimate goal. Of course, there are strengths in certain universities in particular areas, more on quantum communication or on quantum sensing, or on quantum computing. But in the end, the whole idea of the Center is to coordinate these efforts to have a large impact at the national and international levels.

Yuval: How many students and faculty in total are approximately involved in this center?

Gerardo: There are more than 100 faculty members if you count the 4 campuses. You may think that, on average, there are at least three students per faculty working in quantum research. This, plus a number of postdocs, gives you an idea of the size of this enterprise. I mean, it’s certainly a large set of people and talent involved. 

Yuval: One problem that’s often mentioned in the quantum industry is the lack of qualified people. Obviously, a center like yours can educate and produce many people that could then flow into industry. Do you have a degree in quantum information science degree or something that people could say, “Oh, I’ve got a quantum degree and therefore, I’m even more super qualified to work?” If not, is there a plan to create a quantum-centric degree?

Gerardo: Certainly, this is a very important question because we have to develop the quantum workforce of the future. This is an extremely interdisciplinary discipline. Indeed, we do have at Indiana University Bloomington, a quantum information science master’s degree already that started a couple of years ago precisely with the intention to focus on that quantum workforce. So far, has been very successful, and we are getting more students every year, but this is something where we are not alone. Purdue and Notre Dame are trying to establish their own programs, and probably David and Peter can expand on those.

Peter: Sure. I literally just last week had a meeting with our dean of engineering about what might be involved with setting up at least a minor in quantum or a specialization in quantum for at least our undergraduates.

David: I think Indiana is leading the way here as far as having an actual quantum degree. Purdue’s not quite there yet. Most of our quantum students either get ECE or physics degrees as well as a number of other disciplines as well. But Purdue does offer a quantum MicroMasters course that’s all done online. It’s just sort of a little, it’s about a year-long, 10-month or so long snippet to kind of get your feet wet.

Yuval: Interesting. I think Madison has some kind of a certificate or a one-year program in quantum, where on the one hand, you get the certificate, and I guess the challenge is that there are so many different disciplines in quantum that it’s hard to become an expert in everything. 

David, I wanted to ask you, I think beyond NSF funding, there are industry partners in the center. What do you think they’re hoping to get from sponsoring the Quantum Center?

David: Absolutely. There’s a significant value proposition, and maybe I should give a little background on the framework of the center as maybe not a lot of your listeners are familiar with IUCRCs, but that acronym stands for Industry-University Cooperative Research Center. This is an NSF program that’s been funded for about three decades now, and there are about 80 of these IUCRCs throughout the country. The way they function is NSF provides funding for all the management and administrative costs. They don’t actually give any dollars for research. The research funding all comes from the members that pay in annual dues.

The centers are very unique in that the members actually select the projects that are done in the center. Our faculty across the three universities will come together. They will pitch projects to our membership, which forms a board, and then they collectively vote on the projects together to decide which ones get funded. It’s very unique in that the members have a really strong say in the research direction of the center.

Back to your original question, there’s significant value for the membership. One of the biggest ones we hear, and we’ve already talked about the workforce, is that you get access to talent. One stat that NSF always likes to say is that 25% of IUCRC students eventually become employed by member companies. You get a firsthand look at the wonderful talent that we have in place. It can even serve as an interview before you bring someone in for an interview. The access to talent is one.

There’s risk mitigation because you’re sharing those risks with like-minded peers in the field. Research costs are lower than hiring your own quantum employee to come because grad students, of course, are a little cheaper to fund than hiring a full-time employee. The universities also already have world-class infrastructure in place to do this type of research. You’re pooling your research dollars with other members, and there’s significant leverage there.

At the moment, we currently have 1.1 million per year committed across NSF and our membership. Right now, our full membership fee is 50,000 annually. That’s a 22 to 1 leverage right now that you get on your return. Other things are you get network opportunities with, of course, the faculty and students in the center, but also the other members that are involved. Then everyone gets a royalty-free non-exclusive license to any IP that’s produced in the center.

Yuval: Could you disclose some of the members, some of the industrial supporters of the center, and to the extent this has already been decided, maybe some of the projects that you guys are working on?

David: I’m happy to tell you all of our members, and I don’t want to leave anybody out, so I’ll just say them all here. We have Accenture, Air Force Research Lab, BASF, Cummins, D-Wave, Eli Lilly, Entanglement, General Atomics, Hewlett Packard, IBM Quantum, Intel, the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Crane, Northrop Grumman, Quantum Computing Inc., Qrypt, and SkyWater. That’s our current membership, 16 total at the moment. We are expecting a few more to be added here, hopefully in the next coming weeks and months. What was the second part of your question? I’m sorry.

Yuval: Whether you can talk about projects that have already been started or voted on?

David: I’ll maybe let Gerardo or Peter talk a little more about the projects. But as I mentioned, we haven’t actually had our first meeting with our membership, so we don’t know for sure which projects are officially going to be funded, but I’ll let them give a little bit more insight into what our potential topic areas are.

Peter: Sure. I’ll give it a start. When we started this effort, we came up with a book of potential projects where we interrogated our local faculty about what would be of interest. We bounced those off of people as we talked to them off of industry contacts to find out which of those excited them the most. Then after that, we went back and refined that and looked for collaborations where they were naturally formed between sites in the CQT and refined those, came up with a list, I think, of about 16 projects that looked like we were trying to answer their interests and that matched our qualifications, bounced those off in some meetings, early meetings with the industrial partners, and got a sense of what they thought would be the most important ones. Those projects will be the ones that we refine and present for the vote the next time.

Gerardo: These projects cover, in principle, a wide spectrum of quantum topics. They cover things that go from quantum computing and quantum simulations, to quantum hardware, to quantum sensing, that’s extremely important, and quantum materials. We can tell you what were the projects presented in prior meetings, but the reality is that there will be a final vote by the IAB that is going to decide the projects that are going to be funded. 

The other thing that is important to mention is that this is not a fixed set of proposals. The topics may evolve through the years. It may happen that someone starts working, let’s say, on quantum benchmarking on available quantum hardware. It turns out that this project starts going in some direction that is extremely interesting and that area gets expanded, while another project on quantum sensing that was also voted before does not get voted next year. Then, you will have to start adapting the set of priorities that the center is going to focus on. The point is that this is not just a fixed set of proposals, but it’s something that will evolve according to the results and interest of the industrial partners.

David: I’d like to add to Gerardo’s point there. He mentioned earlier that we have over 100 faculty across the three universities. It gives us extreme flexibility to be able to evolve and change to meet the needs of our membership as their needs evolve.

Yuval: I’m curious, Gerardo and then maybe Peter and David, what are your personal research interests? What have you been working on before the center started?

Gerardo: Well, I can start. Before the center was created, I’ve been working in quantum information for at least 20 or 25 years. I have not started three months ago. I started working while I was a staff member in the Theoretical Division at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. I’ve been working since then on different aspects of quantum information science and also condensed matter physics.

My research covers two different aspects, topics that are related to quantum matter and topics that are related to those aspects of quantum information that interface with quantum matter. For instance, topological quantum matter. Topological quantum matter is something of interest, for example, to Microsoft given their interest to build a topological quantum computer. That’s one of the applications apart from the fact that topological materials may have important functionalities special for sensing and for other quantum applications.

I work also in problems that have direct impact in quantum sensing, trying to find ways to increase accuracy and precision in quantum measurements and also to extract additional information by entangling quantum probes. For example, developing entangled neutron probes. Well, I could continue for a long time, but I think that I will give the turn to Peter.

Peter: I’ve spent it seems like forever now in the world of essentially supercomputing, massive parallelism, alternative models of execution of program computation. I just finished a book on that subject. My interest near-term, anyway, is understanding what parameters of quantum computers are going to be, in fact, those that are most suitable for real problems, particularly big problems for which we can afford to spend the money to switch to something that’s quantum-based.

Gerardo mentioned the benchmarking project, and that was one that I put together. In fact, I was going to mention this, one of the neat things about these projects is they’ve made for excellent fodder for attracting grad students because they’re well-defined projects, and I can put that list up in front of some grad students, and those who have an interest in that particular area will come and see me. In fact, I have a new student from South Africa whose interest is in quantum and, particularly quantum machine learning. He, in fact, won a scholarship. He’s going to be working on CQT projects regardless of whether or not they’re funded. Anyway.

David: I’m actually a chemist by training. I spent several years working at the Air Force Research Lab on photonic materials, and have since transitioned into my role at Purdue, which is not as a researcher, but more in business development and management to really help our faculty find funding opportunities and to build partnerships with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government to help Purdue.

Yuval: I’m guessing that the process of setting up the center was a huge effort. I can imagine both herding the cats, so to speak, filing, creating the proposal, going through the bureaucracy, and so on. If I’m in a different part of the country and I’m hearing this podcast, and I say, “Wow, I’d like to do something like this as well.” What do I need to know to build a similar center, and would you be willing to help me if I were trying to do that?

David: That’s an interesting question. NSF funds a number of these centers, but they don’t fund multiple IUCRCs on the same topic. Unless there’s one significantly different than the focus of ours, we’ll really be the only quantum one. I’d be happy to give advice to people not in the quantum field on how to go about this, but the good thing about this is that we can expand if it makes sense for us, and we can bring in other academic partners. A lot has to be needed for that. There has to be some type of expertise that another university provides that we can’t already with our already 100-plus faculty members. We also have minimum membership levels that we have to maintain that increase as you add more partners. While we’re certainly open to exploring, and we’d love to hear from other people to see if that makes sense, it does have to be the right fit for that to happen.

Peter: I’d like just to amplify a bit on that. In terms of help to other similar kinds of centers, you absolutely have to have somebody like David who is technically competent and works well with people from different sites. That is absolutely the number one requirement.

Yuval: I was listening to the list of sponsors, and don’t think I heard a cloud provider. What do you do about hardware or actually running quantum software? Do you want to have a quantum computer within the universities? Are you expecting to partner with one of the large cloud providers? How does that work in terms of execution of programs?

Gerardo: You are talking about development of quantum hardware?

Yuval: Or execution of quantum algorithms on various types of hardware.

Gerardo: These are separate questions. Regarding execution, some of our CQT industrial members have their own quantum computers, IBM for example. Part of the task we have is to find ways, for instance, to use those quantum hardwares in an optimal way, and in some way, help them improve their hardware or compilers. Regarding hardware, there are also specific elements which are developed, for example, at Purdue, in their engineering school, such as better qubits. Can you build qubits better than the ones which are available in these partner industries, for instance? That’s what concerns us. 

Of course, we would like to develop additional technologies, use our own expertise to develop other types of quantum technologies. For example, we have groups here at IU working on two-dimensional ion traps. In principle, these two-dimensional ion traps were  developed for quantum simulations, but eventually, these researchers are thinking about converting this hardware into a quantum computing device. I don’t know if Peter wants to add something to that.

Peter: Yeah, I do. Our discussions, and this was one of the valuable things that came out of the pre-contract discussions with industry, was a fair number of the people we talked to felt long-term it was important to understand how to build not just singular quantum computers and or quantum networks, but clouds, networks of quantum computers, and how do you design out not just to use those for capacity, but how to use those collaboratively to solve problems. This is an area of quantum computing that is liable to be of real interest. How do we build quantum algorithms that span multiple quantum physical computers?

Yuval: We spoke about sponsors and grad students. Are there other types of people, different types of education, that might be interested in participating? What do the grad students do other than their actual research?

Gerardo: That’s a great question. Indeed, graduate and undergraduate students are key to the center. They are not only the blood of research, they also have the possibility to interact directly with industrial partners. They can learn exactly what their interests and problems are through various channels. One of the channels is, for instance, through internships. Another, presentations. They have to present, and update their research on a monthly or bimonthly way. That’s a unique opportunity because they can experience what the real world is out there, and they can even directly influence that interaction. But what is really interesting, or the reason why I started saying this was a great question, is because this goes beyond college students. This applies also to high school students. Young students, and very smart ones, hearing about quantum and wanting to learn and do research in quantum science.

I have two high school students working with me. I can tell you, these guys are really bright. One is 14 years old, and he’s learning about retrodictive quantum computing, some new ideas. It’s unbelievable the way these guys learn and their excitement. It is extremely important to get all these bright minds involved at a very young age because they are the future. They will shape the world we will live in 20 years. 

Yuval: Excellent. If I’m a sponsor in a commercial organization that wants to get involved in the center, or if I’m a grad student that’s looking for the best home for my research or my research interest, what’s the best way to reach out and contact you to learn about your work?

David: You can check out our website, which is purdue.edu/cqt, or you can email cqt@purdue.edu, and then we will certainly get in touch.

Yuval: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.

Gerardo: Thank you very much.

David: Thanks so much for having us.

Yuval Boger is an executive working at the intersection of quantum technology and business. Known as the “Superposition Guy” as well as the original “Qubit Guy,” he can be reached on LinkedIn or at this email.

November 21, 2022