JQI to develop practical quantum technology

COLLEGE PARK, MD-Aiming to transform quantum-physics research into practical technology, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Gaithersburg, MD), the University of Maryland (UM), and the National Security Agency (NSA; Fort Meade, MD) have created the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), to be located at the UM campus.

COLLEGE PARK, MD-Aiming to transform quantum-physics research into practical technology, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Gaithersburg, MD), the University of Maryland (UM), and the National Security Agency (NSA; Fort Meade, MD) have created the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), to be located at the UM campus.

The institute will have an annual budget of approximately $6 million and a staff of about 20 scientists, half from the university and half from NIST. Co-directors for the institute are Christopher Lobb, professor of physics at UM, and Carl Williams, chief of the NIST Atomic Physics Division. The JQI is expected to train scientists and engineers for future industrial opportunities and provide U.S. industry with cutting-edge research results.

“As with much of science, the tools and measurement capabilities are often shared among the applications,” says Carl Williams. “Thus, the institute will help to create a basic understanding and new tools that often can be used for multiple applications.” In addition to quantum computing and communications, other interests of the JQI include building more-sensitive atomic clocks, as well as atom interferometers that could be used for gyroscopes or guidance systems, says Williams.

A prime purpose of the JQI is the transfer of technology to industry. “Technology in the JQI will be passed on through open publications, patenting and licensing, and through broad collaborations,” says Williams. “In some cases, the intellectual property will be solely held by UM employees, in some cases by NIST employees, and in some cases by both. NIST and UM lawyers have worked to ensure that the JQI can appropriately handle both public dissemination as well as patenting.”

While devices and systems based on coherent quantum physics and optics are edging their way into the real world-for example in the form of quantum-cryptographic entangled-photon communications systems-the physics remains steadfastly hard to exploit. However, potential results are important: for instance, a practical quantum computer could swiftly factor enormous numbers, providing a way to crack sophisticated public-key encryption algorithms.

Atomic, molecular, and optical physics are major areas of expertise at NIST and a growing strength at UM; condensed-matter physics (such as the physics of quantum dots and superconductivity) is an area of expertise at UM and the NSA’s Laboratory for Physical Sciences; and quantum-information science is an area of expertise at both NIST and UM.

From NIST’s perspective, the new institute is modeled in part on JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Since its founding in the 1960s, JILA has become a leading research institute in the physical sciences (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/248141).

-John Wallace

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