Quantum processor chips are about the size of a thumbnail; these are scaled to 500,1,000 and 2,000 qubits.

Jun 17 2020

Quantum Computing Gains More Support and Funding from Federal Agencies

The Energy Department, NSF and NIST will work together to promote the radical technology, with additional backing from the White House.

Hoping to leverage the superior analytical power of quantum computing, the federal government is putting even more resources behind the nascent technology. Early 2020 saw requests for increased funding and the creation of new programs and scientific benchmarks.

Quantum technology offers the potential to deliver calculation speeds that outpace today’s computers. “The bevy of possible problems that could be solved by quantum makes our classical computational power look like we are counting on our fingers,” Josh Pomeroy, an experimental physicist, wrote in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Taking Measure blog in February.

While scientists are seeing developments, there are still serious technical obstacles to making it work, says Claire Cramer, program manager in the Department of Energy's Advanced Scientific Computing Research program.

Small experimental quantum processing devices already exist in the private sector, run by companies including IBM, Google and Microsoft; the federal government is also researching quantum processing. 

However, Cramer says, “to run an algorithm that provides a practical quantum advantage will require a computer that is much larger and much less error-prone. A lot of research and development is still required to reach that point.”

Funding for Quantum Computing Research Increases

In January, DOE announced up to $625 million in funding to form two to five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers, which, said the DOE press release, would “create the ecosystem needed to foster and facilitate advancement of quantum information science, with major anticipated benefits for national security, economic competitiveness and America’s continued leadership in science.”

The centers were established as part of the National Quantum Initiative Act, which became law in December 2018 and began coordinated quantum research among NIST, DOE and the National Science Foundation.

The White House’s fiscal year 2021 budget request in February also asked for nearly $500 million for those agencies to fund that research, increasing its investment in quantum by about 50 percent over fiscal 2020.

With that level of support, “more and more experts are giving predictions that in 10 to 15 years, there’s a decent chance that there could be a quantum computer. There could be one sooner with lower probability,” says Dustin Moody, a mathematician in NIST’s Computer Security Division.

Understanding the Science of Quantum Computing

On the scientific front, researchers at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in January developed a quantum chemistry simulation benchmark that will evaluate the performance of quantum devices.

Raphael Pooser, the principal investigator of the project, said that the benchmark “helps DOE better understand what will work and what won’t work as they forge ahead in their mission.”

Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA/Creative Commons

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