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Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne Quantum Initiative leads the way for new generations of communications and information technology

From a history-making quartet of lightbulbs powered by nuclear energy to discoveries enabled by the one of brightest light sources in the Western Hemisphere to insights into the dark corners of the universe, 75 years of Argonne research have produced breakthroughs that have changed our society and made our lives safer, healthier and more prosperous. This article is part of a 75th anniversary series describing Argonne’s history of discovery, current science program and future research thrusts. 

Through its Quantum Initiative, Argonne will harness the power of quantum features to achieve advances in quantum sensing, simulation and networking technologies and their applications. (Image by University of Chicago/Jean Lachat.)

Quantum computing and quantum information science (QIS) are relatively new disciplines. U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory Emeritus Scientist Paul Benioff proposed his pioneering theoretical framework for a quantum computer in the 1980s and, since then, work in quantum information science has expanded to encompass other areas. Over the past decade, research into QIS has exploded around the globe, as laboratories, universities and companies race to realize potential transformational technologies, such as a new, more secure, Internet.

Quantum materials are of great interest for a wide array of technologies, but one particular property of key importance to QIS is their ability, in some cases, to demonstrate entanglement of quantum bits, or qubits. Entangled qubits will communicate instantly with each other, even when separated by a great distance. The manipulation of one qubit in an entangled pair will also have an immediate effect on the other qubit of the entangled pair. While the mathematics behind these states is extremely complex, special algorithms will eventually be able to make short work of such problems, and thus will bypass the capabilities of traditional computing, sensing and communication technologies in certain situations, leading to harder-to-break security codes or the ability to predict particles’ interactions in chemical reactions. Thus, QIS has the potential to have an enormous impact on many technologies and to process exponentially more data for specific kinds of problems.

The Argonne Quantum Initiative will harness the power of quantum features to achieve significant near-term advances in quantum sensing, simulation and networking technologies and their applications. The goal is to hasten creation of a transformational technology sector, leading to progress on the path to a quantum economy. Argonne is exceptionally well-positioned to innovate in the QIS space: The laboratory’s work on secure quantum communication takes place in a 52-mile, fiber-optic testbed quantum loop that showcases many of the Argonne-developed technologies that will help lay the foundation for a quantum internet.

Argonne is part of a thriving quantum ecosystem in the Chicago area, and the laboratory is a founding member of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. In 2018, funding was directed to Chicagoland’s Quantum Triangle” — the DOE’s Argonne and Fermilab, and the University of Chicago — to carry out QIS projects. Most recently, in August 2020, Argonne launched Q-NEXT, one of the first five DOE Quantum Information Science Research Centers in the nation. Argonne is the lead institution for Q-NEXT, which is a center with numerous industrial, academic and national laboratory partners.