Since 2001, a reported $2.35 billion has been invested in quantum technology from private entities. The United States government has also spent a significant amount of money on the emerging technology, with the U.S. Department of Energy providing $9.1 million to fund more than a dozen projects earlier this year.
This month the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it would provide $38 million of new funding for 22 projects involving 47 institutions to enable the development of sustainable research and education efforts in Quantum Information Science and Engineering (QISE), leading to increased participation, capacity building, and increased participation and capacity building toward reaching a critical mass of research and education.
Including last year’s first edition of funding, along with the current competition, the ExpandQISE program now funds a total of 33 projects with a budget of $62.4M. That has included eight awards to Historically Black Colleges and Universities; eight awards to institutions in EPSCOR jurisdictions, six awards to Hispanic Serving Institutions, and 28 awards to non-R1 institutions.
All of these awards are related to quantum research through addressing at least one of the topical Focus Areas of Quantum Fundamentals, Quantum Metrology and Control, or Co-Design and Quantum Systems. In addition, every award includes aspects of Education and Workforce Development. The capacity-building effort is based on creating local research and education infrastructure enabled by close coupling of the Lead Institution of each Award with an external collaborator representing existing, established, and impactful efforts in QISE, usually located in an R-1 Institution, National Laboratory, or one of Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes.
The Importance of Quantum Technology
Quantum technology remains a “buzzword,” but it could truly usher in a major leap forward in computing power – which is why so much emphasis is being placed on its development.
“It is a game changer in terms of communication speed, the ability to encrypt and decrypt information unparalleled making existing protections obsolete, and in its ability to analyze massive amounts of data near-instantly unmatched,” explained technology industry analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.
“This technology could make the difference between winning and losing physical, economic, and cyber wars,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs. “It could also be used to far more accurately, and farther out, predict major weather events and, assuming it could be fed worldwide medical data, solve many if not most of our most difficult health challenges.”
Investment Crucial at All Levels
With companies like Google investing $500 million just in the past year, it would seem that the amount outlaid by NFS isn’t much, but money alone isn’t a guarantee for a breakthrough.
“There has indeed been quite a lot invested in quantum already, and over a number of years,” said Dr. Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland. “It remains promising and of course, the motivation for achieving so-called ‘quantum supremacy” is to solve critical problems which today are otherwise out of reach. So why is NSF investing more into this now? Frankly, the science is still being sorted out.”
The NSF investments are also supporting existing programs, and the more teams that work on it could help the U.S. win the quantum race.
“What we’ve learned so far is encouraging and causes us to believe there are fundamental wins to be had, so the latest NSF funding makes sense,” Purtilo told ClearanceJobs.
This is much more than just creating a slightly faster processor, it will require solving problems that practically need a quantum computer to do the math. Thus getting this potentially game-changing technology won’t come easily – and not likely quickly.
At least not quickly enough, while it also won’t come cheaply.
“Quantum computing is based on exotic physics, and the way we craft programs for it is spectacularly different than today’s norm, so this begs novel engineering practices in order to harness the potential,” added Purtilo. “Likewise we need to figure out how best to teach young people to program these strange new devices. Much of the new funding is therefore lateral work which I see as helping the field mature. We need to take quantum from zany science back in some laboratory to an established market.”
Against this potential leaps forward that quantum could offer $38 million could seem like a tiny drop in the bucket. Enderle suggested that the U.S. efforts should, in fact, be far greater given the rewards.
“Think of this as having the potential of nuclear technology in terms of changing world power dynamics and this amount of funding is embarrassingly low but, fortunately, private investment in the U.S. into this technology is far more significant,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs. “While certainly better than nothing, this budget may be as much as four magnitudes too low given the potential in this technology to reposition the US, positively or negatively, as a world power.”