MITRE Gaining Ground in the Quantum RaceJanuary 2021
Topics: Quantum Information Science, Computer Methodologies, Data Encryption, Cybersecurity, Mathematics
The race to harness quantum technology has attracted both the biggest and the brightest organizations throughout the world. The United States, the European Union, China, and other countries and companies such as Microsoft and Google are investing billions of dollars into their own programs, envisioning huge rewards for the winner.
MITRE, working in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), is making significant progress in our research initiative to create the world’s first fully universal, scalable quantum computer and integrated quantum network.
“This race is important to the nation because of the broad potential of quantum computing to solve complex computational problems exponentially faster than even today’s super computers could do,” says Dr. Jay Schnitzer, MITRE vice president, chief technology officer, and chief medical officer. “Our joint team is developing a quantum computer that will be of practical use in solving real-world problems.”
These problems include high-speed, large-scale optimization of massive data sets, dynamic neural network training, real-time financial analysis, complex materials design, medicine, and vaccine design—as well as cryptography, code breaking, and other challenging problems.
“Quantum computers will be able to solve certain problems that cannot be solved using classical technology,” says Gerry Gilbert, Ph.D, a MITRE Fellow, renowned quantum information scientist, and the program’s principal investigator. “They accomplish this by directly exploiting the exotic features of quantum mechanics. Many around the world believe that those in possession of powerful quantum computers will achieve an advantage compared to those without such devices.”
MITRE, which has a history of exploring emerging technologies that will be relevant to the government, launched its Quantum Information Science (QIS) research program more than 20 years ago. Today, the MITRE-MIT-SNL team is working at the highest levels, combining a set of complementary experimental and theoretical knowledge and skills.
While the laws of quantum mechanics have been at the center of physics research for a century, realizing their potential for technology remains an enormous challenge. Organizations are pursuing many different approaches to building quantum bits (qubits), including superconducting, trapped ion, topological, photonic, and others.
Each approach has its own challenges and advantages. One challenge for all approaches relates to keeping the qubits in their proper states of quantum superposition or entanglement to perform effectively.
“We are principally pursuing photonic qubits—qubits made from elementary particles of light in a unique hybrid design,” Gilbert explains. “An interesting aspect of the physics of photons is that they don’t directly interact with each other and thus don’t directly cause decoherence to each other in a vacuum.
"Our hybrid approach enables both excellent quantum programmability and robust quantum memories.” (Read more on MITRE's work in the science of QIS.)
Broad Brain Power
The program’s aggressive and challenging goals require a powerful mix of capabilities across theoretical physics, experimental physics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science, as well as highly specialized, cutting-edge experimental laboratories.
“No single organization in the U.S. is equipped to address all the myriad analysis, lab design, testing, and fabrication requirements necessary to achieve our goal,” Gilbert notes.
"We are fortunate to be working with two outstanding, world-class research groups as close partners, led by international leaders in their fields, Professor Dirk Englund at MIT and Dr. Matt Eichenfield at Sandia National Laboratory. Working together, this MITRE-MIT-SNL team has made steady progress in 2020—despite COVID-19. Our MITRE Quantum Lab has remained open and team members take turns working on their part of the project.
“As a result, we’re on track to make significant progress in 2021.”
—by Beverly Wood