Department of Energy selects Argonne, Fermilab to lead two multi-million-dollar national quantum research centers

Chicago area’s growing quantum ecosystem to host two of five centers to boost discovery

The U.S. Department of Energy is establishing five new National Quantum Information Science Research Centers, including a center led by Argonne National Laboratory and a center led by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which are each projected to receive $115 million in funding over the next five years. Both laboratories are affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The centers, which the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced on Aug. 26, are intended to foster transformational breakthroughs in quantum information science and related technology—bringing together world-leading experts and top-tier facilities in support of the National Quantum Initiative.

The Q-NEXT center, led by Argonne, brings together national laboratories, universities including the University of Chicago, and leading U.S. technology companies with the single goal of developing the science and technology to control and distribute quantum information. With 22 partners, it will create two national foundries for quantum materials, develop networks of sensors and secure communications systems, establish simulation and network testbeds, and train a next-generation, quantum-ready workforce to ensure U.S. scientific and economic leadership in this rapidly advancing field. 

The Fermilab-led center, called the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center or SQMS, aims to build and deploy a beyond-state-of-the-art quantum computer based on superconducting technologies. The center also will develop new quantum sensors, which could lead to the discovery of the nature of dark matter and other elusive subatomic particles. The center will include 20 partners, including national labs, universities and industry.

“The Department of Energy is proud to be in partnership with a significant breadth of participants to support Quantum Information Science Centers around the country, and by allocating generous contributions from these participants we can continue to further scientific discovery through quantum technologies,” said Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “Our nation continues to lead in the development of industries of the future, and these five centers will marshal the full strength of our national laboratories, universities, and our public and private sector partnerships.”

The University of Chicago manages Argonne for the Department of Energy through UChicago Argonne, LLC; and Fermilab together with the Universities Research Association, Inc. through the Fermi Research Alliance.

A quantum race is underway as multiple nations compete to produce breakthroughs. The Chicago area has emerged as a leading hub of quantum research—home to two national laboratories, the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, and other world-class academic institutions, and a number of industry leaders. 

Scientists from Argonne and the University of Chicago achieved a major breakthrough in February when they successfully entangled photons across a 52-mile “quantum loop” in the Chicago suburbs, establishing one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation. That network will soon be connected to Fermilab, establishing a three-node, 80-mile test bed. In July, the Department of Energy came to the University of Chicago to unveil a blueprint for quantum research in the next decades. 

“This is one of the most exciting developments for the economic vitality and prestige of our state. I could not be more delighted that Illinois will be home to not one, but two of the five quantum research centers in the U.S.— opening the newest chapter in the storied history of scientific and technological innovation in the state of Illinois,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Our outstanding ecosystem of world-class academic institutions, national labs, Fortune 500 companies and tech startups has changed the world before, and it is poised to do so again. With our state’s investment in science and technology alongside the university and the Department of Energy, we lay the groundwork for scientific achievements that will shape Illinois, the nation—and the globe—for decades to come.”

"True breakthroughs in an area as challenging as quantum networking can only come from a powerful network itself—of partnerships and collaborations among colleges and universities, national labs, incubators and industry—and there is no better place in the nation than right here in Chicago,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “This impressive network is possible thanks to the creativity, strength and resolve of our residents, so many of whom make it their mission to use their expertise to improve communities both within Chicago and beyond. These scientific innovations of tomorrow are built on the investments of today, and with these two centers, Chicago is poised to lay a foundation of knowledge and technology for the future.”

“Illinois has been a longtime leader in understanding the science and developing the technology to move our country forward. With Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago and Fermilab behind them, I know our researchers will bring us significant breakthroughs in quantum technology,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “The Department of Energy made an excellent choice in supporting and basing two of its quantum centers in Illinois and partnering with some of the best universities in the nation to begin the next generation of quantum innovation.”

“Chicago is home to some of the largest collaborative teams working on quantum science in the world, and this is a major step forward for developing critical new applications that will have significant impact in the future,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. “These centers will help to build a foundation of knowledge, to speed discovery, and particularly at the University of Chicago, to educate a workforce of quantum engineers for the future.” 

Argonne to leap quantum hurdles with Q-NEXT

Q-NEXT, led by Argonne National Laboratory, aims to boost rapid commercialization of new technologies to support the emerging “quantum economy.”

“The world is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Through the collaborative efforts of the national laboratories, universities and companies actively involved in Q-NEXT, we will develop instrumentation to explore and control the quantum properties of matter, and translate these discoveries into technologies that benefit society,” said David Awschalom, Q-NEXT director, senior scientist at Argonne, the Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago, and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, which convenes partners around Chicagoland to further quantum research. “This partnership is essential to create a domestic supply chain of new quantum materials and devices for a robust quantum economy.” 

Q-NEXT will also create two national foundries for quantum materials—one at Argonne and one at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Together, these foundries will act as a single “quantum factory,” producing a robust supply chain of standardized materials and devices that will support both known and yet-to-be-discovered quantum-enabled applications. It will also create a first-ever National Quantum Devices Database for the standardization of next-generation quantum devices. 

"New technology spawned by Q-NEXT will accelerate U.S. prosperity and security,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. “As part of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Argonne is proud to be the lead laboratory for Q-NEXT in this important endeavor bringing together world-leading experts and the wealth of scientific resources at national labs, academia, and industry."

Q-NEXT will be funded by the Department of Energy at $115 million over five years, with $15 million this year and outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations. Additional funding from partner organizations totals $93 million to further drive the research effort.

The State of Illinois General Assembly also directed $200 million through HB62 split equally between the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop quantum infrastructure for the Chicago Quantum Exchange, which will support Q-NEXT through collaborative efforts.

With these resources and the strength of private-public partnerships, Q-NEXT will focus on three core quantum technologies. 

These include communication for the transmission of quantum information across long distances, such as quantum repeaters enabling the establishment of “unhackable” networks for information transfer; sensors that achieve unprecedented sensitivities with transformational applications in physics, materials, and life sciences; and creating “test beds” both for quantum simulators and future full-stack universal quantum computers with applications in quantum simulations, cryptanalysis and logistics optimization.

Q-NEXT will also train the next-generation quantum workforce through innovative training programs with industry, academia, and government to ensure continued U.S. scientific and economic leadership in this rapidly advancing fieldThe University of Chicago intends to explore workforce partnerships with City Colleges.

The University also aims to develop a robust set of initiatives, in partnership with Q-NEXT and local leaders, to develop innovative educational pathways, workforce development strategies, and local economic development opportunities to ensure South Side residents are prepared for and can benefit from these scientific breakthroughs.

The other national laboratories involved are SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The University of Chicago is a partner along with nine other universities: California Institute of Technology; Cornell University; Northwestern University; Penn State University; Stanford University; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Minnesota; and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ten companies are also official partners: Applied Materials, IBM, Boeing, Intel, ColdQuanta, Keysight Technologies, General Atomics, Microsoft, HRL Laboratories and Quantum Opus.

Ambitious goals in quantum computing and sensing at Fermilab’s SQMS

At the heart of Fermilab’s Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center research will be solving one of the most pressing problems in quantum information science: The length of time that a qubit—the basic element of a quantum computer—can maintain information, also called quantum coherence. Understanding and mitigating sources of decoherence that limit performance of quantum devices is critical to engineering in next-generation quantum computers and sensors.

“Unless we address and overcome the issue of quantum system decoherence, we will not be able to build quantum computers that solve new, complex and important problems. The same applies to quantum sensors with the range of sensitivity needed to address long-standing questions in many fields of science,” said Anna Grassellino, director of the SQMS Center, senior scientist and deputy chief technology officer at Fermilab. “Overcoming this crucial limitation would allow us to have a great impact in the life sciences, biology, medicine, and national security, and enable measurements of incomparable precision and sensitivity in basic science.”  

The SQMS Center’s ambitious goals in computing and sensing are driven by Fermilab's achievement of world-leading coherence times in components called superconducting cavities, which were developed for particle accelerators used in Fermilab’s particle physics experiments. To advance the coherence even further, SQMS collaborators will launch a materials-science investigation of unprecedented scale to gain insights into the fundamental limiting mechanisms of cavities and qubits, working to understand the quantum properties of superconductors and other materials used at the nanoscale and in the microwave regime.  

SQMS funding will be $115 million over five years from the Department of Energy, with $15 million this year and outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations. SQMS will receive an additional $8 million in matching contributions from partner organizations.

The collaboration brings together world-leading expertise in all key aspects: from identifying qubits’ quality limitations at the nanometer scale to fabrication and scale-up capabilities into multi-qubit quantum computers to exploration of new applications enabled by quantum computers and sensors.

“Fermilab is excited to host this National Quantum Information Science Research Center and work with this extraordinary network of collaborators,” said Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab. “This initiative aligns with Fermilab and its mission. It will help us answer important particle physics questions, and at the same time, we will contribute to advancements in quantum information science with our strengths in particle accelerator technologies, such as superconducting radio-frequency devices and cryogenics.”  

The center includes Fermilab and core partners Northwestern University, Rigetti Computing, Ames Laboratory and NASA Ames Research Center, as well as contributing partners Colorado School of Mines, Goldman Sachs, Illinois Institute of Technology, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Janis Research, Johns Hopkins University, Lockheed Martin, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Stanford University, Temple University, Unitary Fund, University of Arizona, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Padova, Italy.

— Adapted from stories originally published by Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab.