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U.S. DoE launches Blueprint for Quantum Internet at University of Chicago

29 Jul 2020

National effort to develop quantum networks and “new era of communications”.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has presented a report outlining a strategy for the development of a national quantum internet, with the aim of “bringing the United States to the forefront of the global quantum race and ushering in a new era of communications.”

This report provides a pathway to ensure the development of the National Quantum Initiative Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in December of 2018.

At last week's launch at the University of Chicago, the DOE stated, “Around the world, consensus is building that a system to communicate using quantum mechanics represents one of the most important technological frontiers of the 21st century. Scientists now believe that the construction of a prototype will be within reach over the next decade.”

Quantum backbone

The DOE’s 17 National Laboratories will serve as the backbone of the coming quantum internet, which will transmit information more securely than ever before, stated the DOE. “Currently in its initial stages of development, the quantum internet could become a secure communications network and have a profound impact on areas critical to science, industry, and national security,” said the launch statement.

Crucial steps toward building such an internet are already underway in the Chicago region, which has become one of the leading global hubs for quantum research. In February, 2020, scientists from DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, and the University of Chicago entangled photons across a 52-mile “quantum loop” in the Chicago suburbs, successfully establishing one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation. That network will soon be connected to DOE’s Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, establishing a three-node, 80-mile testbed.

“The combined intellectual and technological leadership of the University of Chicago, Argonne, and Fermilab has given Chicago a central role in the global competition to develop quantum information technologies,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. “This work entails defining and building entirely new fields of study, and with them, new frontiers for technological applications that can improve the quality of life for many around the world and support the long-term competitiveness of our city, state, and nation.”

Argonne Director Paul Kearns commented, “Argonne, Fermilab, and the University of Chicago have a long history of working together to accelerate technology that drives U.S. prosperity and security. We continue that tradition by tackling the challenges of establishing a national quantum internet, expanding our collaboration to tap into the vast power of American scientists and engineers around the country.”

“Decades from now, when we look back to the beginnings of the quantum internet, we'll be able to say that the original nexus points were here in Chicago—at Fermilab, Argonne, and the University of Chicago,” said Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab. “As part of an existing scientific ecosystem, the DOE National Laboratories are in the best position to facilitate this integration.”

Multi-institution effort

Creating a full-fledged prototype of a quantum internet will require intense coordination among U.S. Federal agencies—including DOE, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the National Security Agency, and NASA—along with National Laboratories, academic institutions, and industry.

The DOE report lays out crucial research objectives, including building and then integrating quantum networking devices, perpetuating and routing quantum information, and correcting errors. Then, to put the nationwide network into place, there are four key milestones: verify secure quantum protocols over existing fiber networks, send entangled information across campuses or cities, expand the networks between cities, and finally expand between states, using quantum “repeaters” to amplify signals.

“The foundation of quantum networks rests on our ability to precisely synthesize and manipulate matter at the atomic scale, including the control of single photons,” commented David Awschalom, Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

“Our National Laboratories house world-class facilities to image materials with subatomic resolution and state-of-the-art supercomputers to model their behavior. These powerful resources are critical to accelerating progress in quantum information science and engineering, and to leading this rapidly evolving field in collaboration with academic and corporate partners.”

Launch event at the University of Chicago

The following video shows the U.S. Department of Energy unveiling its blueprint for the quantum internet at the “Launch To The Future: Quantum Internet” event, hosted at the University of Chicago, on July 23rd, 2020. Event speakers include: Chair Juan de Pablo, Professor at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering; J.B. Pritzker, Governor of Illinois; Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago; Bobby Rush, U.S. Representative; Robert Zimmer, University of Chicago President; Paul Kearns, Argonne National Labs Director; and Nigel Lockyer, Fermilab Director.

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