From codebreaking to aircraft design, complex problems in a wide range of fields exist that even today’s best computers cannot solve.
To accelerate the development of a practical quantum computer that will one day answer currently unsolvable research questions, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $15 million over five years to the multi-institution Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design (STAQ) project.
“Quantum computers will change everything about the technology we use and how we use it, and we are still taking the initial steps toward realizing this goal,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “Developing the first practical quantum computer would be a major milestone. By bringing together experts who have outlined a path to a practical quantum computer and supporting its development, NSF is working to take the quantum revolution from theory to reality.”
Today’s quantum computers are mostly proofs of concept, demonstrating the feasibility of certain principles. While they have grown in complexity as researchers’ ability to control and construct quantum systems has improved, they have not yet solved a computational problem for which the answer was unknown.
The project’s integrated approach to developing a practical quantum computer relies on finding new algorithms based on optimization and scientific computing problems, improving quantum computer hardware, and developing software tools that optimize algorithm performance for the specific machine in development.
STAQ emerged from an NSF Ideas Lab, one of a series of week-long, free-form exchanges among researchers from a wide range of fields that aim to generate creative, collaborative proposals to address a given research challenge. This particular NSF Ideas Lab focused on the Practical Fully-Connected Quantum Computer challenge. STAQ will involve physicists, computer scientists and engineers from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Maryland and University of New Mexico.
The STAQ researchers will focus on four primary goals:
- Develop a quantum computer with a sufficiently large number of quantum bits (qubits) to solve a challenging calculation.
- Ensure that every qubit interacts with all other qubits in the system, critical for solving fundamental problems in physics.
- Integrate software, algorithms, devices and systems engineering.
- Involve equal input from experimentalists, theorists, engineers and computer scientists.
“The first truly effective quantum computer will not emerge from one researcher working in a single discipline,” said NSF Chief Operating Officer Fleming Crim. “Quantum computing requires experts from a range of fields, with individuals applying complementary insights to solve some of the most challenging problems in science and engineering. NSF’s STAQ project uniquely addresses that need, providing a cutting-edge approach that promises to dramatically advance U.S. leadership in quantum computing.”