US Department of Energy grants funding to expand quantum information science at Berkeley Lab

Peter DaSilva/Berkeley Lab/Courtesy

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The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, announced Monday that it will grant funding to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, to expand its work in quantum information science, or QIS.

DOE granted $218 million in 85 research awards to various QIS institutions across the nation. According to a press release, among other awards, Berkeley Lab will receive $30 million over five years to build and operate the Advanced Quantum Testbed, or AQT, which will evaluate how early quantum computers can be used in scientific research.

The money funded to Berkeley Lab will also go toward the development and research of dark matter detection and quantum computing algorithms for chemistry. Berkeley Lab also announced a new partnership between Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley — Berkeley Quantum — which combines resources from both institutions to further QIS research.

The real power of something like this is that we are going to tackle fundamental questions that have been asked for the last 100 years,” said AQT director and physics professor Irfan Siddiqi.

Siddiqi added that he is excited to build the AQT project “collectively,” both in labs and on campus. According to a press release, the DOE funding will accelerate the development of quantum computers, also known as supercomputers. According to Jonathan Carter, computing sciences deputy and co-principal investigator at AQT, quantum computers surpass classic computers because they can store an “enormous amount” of information.

The use of quantum computers is still in question because they are “brand new tech,” and real interest in them only began in 2010, according to Berkeley Lab senior scientist Bert de Jong. De Jong said that ultimately, scientists are trying to answer the question: “How can we use these quantum computers to do science?”

“We want to make sure that at this point in time … we keep the development of (quantum computers) open,” Carter said. “We don’t hone in on a solution without all at the possibilities.”

The increased funding for the lab is important because they are “taking the risks” to see where quantum computers lead, said Anastasiia Butko, a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at Berkeley Lab.

The DOE grant will also help Berkeley Lab develop dark matter detection, which seems promising through QIS, according to Maurice Garcia-Sciveres, senior scientist in the physics division of Berkeley Lab.

“The emerging technologies associated with quantum information science hold the promise of greater sensitivity than we have achieved so far,” Garcia-Sciveres said in an email. “With this funding we are able to boost these efforts and join forces with additional researchers developing new materials with quantum properties or developing quantum devices for other applications.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.