The National Science Foundation has awarded a 15 million dollar grant to develop the first practical quantum computer over a period of 5 years. Multi institutional organization “Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum Co-design” (STAQ) will lead the project moving forward.

“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.

This may be an understatement. Once a single quantum computer hits the hypothetical milestone of “Quantum supremacy” it is expect to surpass the processing power of all other computers in existence combined. Quantum computers owe their potential to a well known phenomena called quantum entanglement, whereby two subatomic particles traveling through a crystal become connected in a way that defies the large scale rules of conventional relativity.

Once they become “entangled” the spin of one particle will always be revealed as exactly opposite to the other when either of them is measured or observed closely. However, when entangled particles are not being measured/observed they exist in a “superposition” of either direction – a strange property of quantum mechanics.

For example in an ordinary computer a “bit” of data can exist as either a one or two whereas each entangled particle in a “Qubit” exists as both a one and two at the same time – until observed where it then “collapses” in to a classical bit i.e. each particle spins in a certain direction. Furthermore a “superposed” vector can be programmed anywhere on the surface of a “Bosch” sphere whereas observation/measurement will force that vector in to a more narrow vertical or horizontal axis, therefor ruining this complex data.

Observation or measurement will destroy this dense superposed coding on the Bosch sphere, however, it also renders quantum computers unhackable.

“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.”

These physicists, computer scientists and engineers involved in NSFs Practical Fully-Connected Quantum Computer challenge were plucked from a wide range of post secondary institutions including Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Maryland and University of New Mexico.

From the NSF Website

“The aspiration is that bringing together researchers from diverse scientific backgrounds will engender fresh thinking and innovative approaches that will provide a fertile ground for new ideas on the design and fabrication of quantum devices and processors and implementation of quantum information processing algorithms”

“Advances are needed in several domains, including device fabrication, quantum control, new physical-level architectures, implementation of error correction and decoherence-avoiding strategies, compilation of quantum programs, programming of quantum computers, software to operate quantum computers, and quantum algorithm design”

The team has 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.”

The project was funded through NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorates.

NSF launches effort to create first practical quantum computer