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    Critical Thought

    Critical thoughts on quantum technologies

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Takes Quantum Computing to New Heights

    ByByron Bekker

    Nov 18, 2023
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Takes Quantum Computing to New Heights

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, has made history as the first university to house a cutting-edge quantum supercomputer. In a recent ceremony at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, RPI unveiled the remarkable IBM Quantum System One. With a staggering investment of $150 million, this technological marvel has the potential to revolutionize various fields, from healthcare and sustainability to artificial intelligence and national security.

    So, what exactly is quantum computing? Unlike traditional computers that rely on classical bits for processing information, quantum computers utilize the principles of quantum mechanics to operate with quantum bits, or qubits. These qubits have the unique ability to exist in multiple states simultaneously, exponentially increasing the computational power of the system. Consequently, quantum computers hold immense promise for tackling complex problems and driving scientific advancements.

    The development of the IBM Quantum System One at RPI is the result of a fruitful public-private partnership. The institution received invaluable support from RPI graduate Curtis Priem, who co-founded NVIDIA, a global corporation known for its graphics processors, mobile technology, and desktop computers. Priem firmly believes that quantum computing outshines other advanced technologies, stating that it is more promising and necessary in today’s rapidly evolving landscape.

    RPI President Marty Schmidt envisions the establishment of a groundbreaking IBM Quantum Computational Center, demonstrating the institution’s proactive approach to future technological developments. Schmidt acknowledges that there may be a learning curve as researchers and students fully explore the potential of this supercomputer. By leveraging its capabilities effectively, the scientific community can address pressing challenges in drug discovery, materials modeling, financial risk assessment, and more.

    The anticipated launch of the IBM Quantum System One is set for January, with cloud computing services already available. This powerful supercomputer will be equipped with a cutting-edge 127-qubit IBM Quantum Eagle processor. Capable of performing “utility-scale calculations,” this processor stands as a testament to the exponential growth of computational capabilities.

    To comprehend how this quantum supercomputer works, one must delve into the underlying technology. A pulse tube cryocooler and a mixing chamber play a vital role in cooling the quantum processor to a chilling temperature of 0.015 Kelvin—colder than outer space. At such extremes, molecular motion comes to a halt, enabling the qubits to maintain their quantum states. The quantum processor chip, located at the bottom of the intricate setup, houses the qubits and performs complex calculations.

    RPI’s pioneering efforts in implementing state-of-the-art technology have gained recognition from influential leaders. Formerly the provost of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Schmidt sees RPI and the Capital Region evolving into global innovation hubs. This aligns with the vision of political figures like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who strive to position the United States as a leader in cutting-edge research and development.

    Congressman Paul Tonko, an engineer himself, emphasizes the importance of investing in core quantum research programs. Tonko references the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, signed into law by President Biden, which authorizes new investments to foster transformative scientific discoveries in the field of quantum computing.

    RPI’s commitment to technological advancements extends beyond quantum computing. Earlier this year, the institution partnered with Micron, a semiconductor giant, and ten other universities in the United States and Japan to establish the University Partnership for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development in Semiconductors (UPWARDS). This collaborative initiative aims to cultivate a skilled semiconductor workforce and accelerate semiconductor research.

    Looking ahead, RPI envisions a future where students, inspired by the prospects of quantum computing, will come to the institution to acquire knowledge and change the world. Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, DarĂ­o Gil, recognizes that true progress in quantum computing requires collaboration between academia and industry. By harnessing the expertise of partners and the global community, the industry can overcome obstacles and unlock the full potential of quantum computing.

    The forthcoming IBM Quantum Computation Center, set to open next spring, will serve as the home for this revolutionary supercomputer. Housed in the Vorhees computer center, a former chapel adorned with stained-glass windows etched with the images of the first four doctors of the Latin Christian church, the computer symbolizes the marriage of technology and human ingenuity. Additionally, the computer will join the ranks of the Curtis Priem Quantum Constellation, a research center dedicated to collaborative exploration, while attracting top leaders and researchers.

    As part of the RPI IBM agreement, there is a commitment to upgrade the system in 2026, ensuring that RPI remains at the forefront of quantum computing research and development. This investment solidifies RPI’s position as a trailblazer, driving innovation and propelling the future of technology forward.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How does quantum computing differ from traditional computing?

    Traditional computing relies on classical bits to process information, whereas quantum computing utilizes quantum bits, or qubits. Unlike classical bits that exist in either a 0 or 1 state, qubits can exist in multiple states simultaneously, exponentially increasing computational power.

    What are the potential applications of quantum computing?

    Quantum computing holds immense promise in various fields, including healthcare, sustainability, artificial intelligence, and national security. It can accelerate drug discovery, enable advanced materials modeling, and enhance financial risk assessment, among many other applications.

    Why is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s quantum supercomputer significant?

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is the first university in the world to house a quantum supercomputer. Built in collaboration with IBM, this cutting-edge system represents a groundbreaking investment of $150 million. Its establishment positions RPI at the forefront of quantum computing research and development.

    How does quantum computing work?

    Quantum computing relies on the principles of quantum mechanics to process information. By leveraging the unique properties of qubits, such as superposition and entanglement, quantum computers can perform complex calculations that are currently beyond the reach of classical computers.

    What is the IBM Quantum System One?

    The IBM Quantum System One is the quantum supercomputer housed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It features a state-of-the-art 127-qubit IBM Quantum Eagle processor and is capable of performing “utility-scale calculations.” This powerful system represents the forefront of quantum computing technology.

    What partnerships does Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have in the field of technology?

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has partnered with semiconductor giant Micron and ten other universities to establish the University Partnership for Workforce Advancement and Research & Development in Semiconductors (UPWARDS). This collaboration aims to cultivate a skilled semiconductor workforce and propel semiconductor research forward.