Tuning in to the industry to accelerate the transfer of quantum computing technologies from the lab to the marketplace
By Monica Hernandez
The Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA), a National QIS Research Center, funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, hosted its first virtual industry roundtable on May 26, 2021. QSA is led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Sandia National Laboratories as its lead partner. QSA’s leadership invited numerous founders, CEOs, senior scientists, and engineers of major publicly traded companies, medium-to-small sized businesses, and startups from across the United States and the world in the field of quantum information science (QIS) and technology.
Quantum information science and technology examines the hardware and software solutions for quantum computing, which takes advantage of quantum mechanics to conduct complex computations that classical computers cannot. Quantum mechanics is the physical foundation of nature at the tiniest scales: atoms and subatomic particles.
The Quantum Systems Accelerator works closely with local and international companies to accelerate the progress for practical and extensible quantum computing systems. And to support the transfer from the lab to the marketplace, QSA is always open for partnerships with industry.
Indeed, as part of QSA’s public mandate to support the quantum ecosystem, the industries represented at the 1-hour roundtable ranged across a broad spectrum of hardware and software technologies, including the different advanced quantum bit technologies (qubits) available today for computation – neutral atom arrays, trapped ions, and superconducting circuits – and the software solutions ideally suited for these types of technologies.
Co-design at the heart of QSA
QSA’s efforts to engage and collaborate with industry for meaningful research in quantum information science stems from co-design. Co-design is the integrated and cooperative method of research and development (R&D) where interdisciplinary teams contribute to the design of systems accompanied by advances in algorithms, quantum devices, and engineering solutions. These systems, in turn, set the stage for future scientific discoveries for applications in pharmaceuticals, logistics, finance, Earth science, cybersecurity, aerospace, and many others.
Co-design leverages different approaches to the fundamental questions in QIS for quantum computation. New ideas for the design and fabrication of a given qubit technology or control technology, for example, influence the engineering and industrial disciplines to answer the critical questions about the future of quantum processors. As another example of co-design, exploring new materials in quantum devices with a higher coherence time (the length of time that quantum information survives in a qubit) helps develop quantum systems with more computational power.
By understanding what enables and what limits different quantum technologies and what technologies are necessary to develop, the cross-collaboration inherent in co-design will accelerate the field as a whole.
Berkeley Lab’s Director of QSA, Irfan Siddiqi, set the stage early on by highlighting the importance of co-design.
“We want to hear what the community has to say, where the utility and the right partnerships are to push the science forward for the long game, not just for the short game. There are certainly short-term wins and different priorities that we’re all looking for. But we also want to listen to your perspectives about the investments in fundamental research in the longer term to advance the science.”
Similarly, Sandia National Laboratories’ Deputy Director of QSA, Rick Muller, emphasized the importance of the gathering.
“Sometimes you don’t know the route up a tall mountain until you get a better vantage point by standing on top of another mountain. The mountain we stand on right now is noisy intermediate-scale quantum devices – NISQ. But we also encounter a series of problems to demonstrate a quantum advantage that are currently unexplored at the levels of materials, hardware, and applications, including quantum algorithms. Even the protocols we have to quantify and benchmark the performance of imperfect hardware still need to be developed.”
Areas of focus at QSA: Contributing to the advancement of QIS
At a focal point during the roundtable, the QSA leadership provided an overview of the current research areas of focus and technical advancements that cross-cut and intersect everything in the spectrum for quantum computing. This broad research focus results from QSA’s 15 official institutional partnerships and its engagement with more than 30 partners across academia, government labs, international research programs, and industry, including large companies and startups. QSA also partners with the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States with a commercial focus on the quantum industry.
Topical areas of R&D at QSA currently include:
- Platforms: superconducting, neutral atoms, trapped ions
- Engineering: materials, controls, and integration
- Applications: algorithms, benchmarking, and error mitigation
Sandia’s Associate Director for Ecosystems of QSA, David Kistin, expanded on the topic of industry collaborations.
“Industry partnerships are a central piece of the QSA’s broad focus to build out the quantum ecosystem, to liaison with regional economic development offices, to team up incubators and accelerators, and especially to bring up and prepare the workforce for the future. We are open to leveraging projects at QSA, including those with other national and international offices of sciences and user facilities to help transfer some of the QIS technology and expertise into the private sector.”
Open discussions: QSA tunes in to the needs and perspectives of industry
The roundtable wrapped up with open discussions- the ideal opportunity to tune in to the needs and perspectives of the diversity of attendees. These discussions extended beyond the technical considerations in R&D to the bigger and more ambitious questions in quantum information science and technology. Some of the discussion topics included the measures needed to prepare the nation’s quantum workforce and how QSA can further support the growth and launch of new startups. Attendees also discussed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to ensure a growing representation at QSA and industry-wide.
Muller accentuated the significance of the open discussion.
“We want to know your perspectives on how we can be most effective. The DOE Office of Science wants to help reduce the risk for the industrial realizations of these quantum technologies. At QSA, we aim to do everything we can to catalyze the growth of this broader ecosystem that’s going to be necessary to deliver quantum advantage to real-world applications.”
QSA is always open for partnerships that catalyze the research community and industry
To conduct meaningful research for industry and the broader QIS community, QSA focuses on critical roadblocks and ambitious scientific problems. Some of the issues already mapped out as the key ones for next-generation quantum systems include understanding how improved amplifiers, signals, and packaging techniques enhance cryogenic systems. Other topics include examining how improvements in software systems and programming environments can aid in the design of enhanced quantum circuits for quantum simulations, materials science, molecular design, linear algebra optimization, and applications.
There’s a broad breadth and depth of research and development at QSA. However, the milestones needed to reach practical quantum computational systems and the associated industries depend on robust partnerships. Participation in QSA is governed by a series of agreements between members that streamline the necessary framework for a seamless collaboration beyond just a single technology. This ongoing collaboration with world-leading experts accelerates the development of systems to achieve a practical quantum advantage. Shared intellectual property (IP) agreements – patent pooling – ensure that IP rights are available to all partners and industry partners. QSA agreements for commercial spin-offs of research and technologies are also available.
Looking ahead, QSA will continue to host discussions and roundtables with industry and partners to catalyze the quantum community and accelerate the transfer of expertise and technologies from the lab to the marketplace.
“We hope that collectively we can go ahead and pave this path in quantum forward,” said Siddiqi.
To further explore partnerships with QSA, please submit your information online at https://quantumsystemsaccelerator.org/contact-us/.
Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.
The Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA) is one of the five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and with Sandia National Laboratories as lead partner, QSA will catalyze national leadership in quantum information science to co-design the algorithms, quantum devices, and engineering solutions needed to deliver certified quantum advantage in scientific applications. QSA brings together dozens of scientists who are pioneers of many of today’s unique quantum engineering and fabrication capabilities. In addition to industry and academic partners across the world, 15 U.S. institutions are part of QSA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, University of Colorado at Boulder, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Caltech, Duke University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, UC Berkeley, University of Maryland, University of New Mexico, University of Southern California, UT Austin, and Canada’s Université de Sherbrooke. For more information, please visit