By Jas Mehta

Welcome to the realm of quantum computing, where the ordinary rules of the digital landscape no longer apply. In recent years, the burgeoning field of quantum computing has sparked a transformative revolution in computational power, promising to reshape industries and unlock new frontiers in technology. In light of this, there is an initiative aiming to propel quantum information science and engineering (QISE) into a transformative future, led by The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ExpandQISE initiative. This strategic program facilitates collaboration between QISE Centers and academic institutions, transcending conventional scientific pursuits and fostering groundbreaking exploration. Further aiding the development, two recent awards made in the Midwest region by NSF in this program illustrate the diverse applications of this new technology.

Now, let’s dive into the story of a university that gained acclaim for its research in using nanodiamond quantum sensors for the enhancement of biomass pretreatment. The success of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville (SIU-E) can be attributed to the presence of a team that is engaged in pioneering research. Their focus on using nanodiamonds, requiring advanced microscopes for observation, to investigate the conversion of common flora into a carbon-neutral biofuel aligns with broader environmental goals. This endeavor positions SIU-E scientists as modern luminaries equipped with cutting-edge investigative instruments. The adaptation of an advanced microscope to accommodate nanodiamonds as sensors resembles the meticulous work of detectives tracing evidential trails. These nanodiamonds, through their quantum properties, serve as sensitive probes capable of monitoring real-time alterations in plant materials. This application offers a unique insight, enabling the forecasting of the future of biofuel production. Nanodiamonds function as sensors by exhibiting quantum properties, such as nitrogen-vacancy centers, allowing for precise detection and analysis of changes at the nanoscale level. This innovative initiative extends beyond exploration; it establishes an institution where prospective scientists are educated in harnessing the remarkable capabilities of quantum science to aid in preserving and rejuvenating our planet.

The next award we’ll explore is Marquette University’s recognition for their research in quantum molecular dynamics, specifically focusing on its application to quantum computers. Marquette University, in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory, received their grant from the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (MPS/OMA) and the Technology Frontiers Program (TIP/TF) of the NSF. Their scientists use quantum computers to uncover the hidden world of atoms and molecules, providing a microscopic view of entities so minuscule that their existence seems improbable. The project delves into three pivotal areas. Firstly, it focuses on the development and applications of the Quantum Annealer Eigensolver (QAE) algorithm, pivotal for unraveling the rotational-vibrational spectra of molecules and illuminating chemical reactivity. Secondly, the project delves into quantum molecular dynamics simulations on QAE, using the quantum differential equations (QDE) algorithm to explore the intricate realms of molecule and surface phenomena. Lastly, the project ventures into theoretical studies, delving deep into coherent control of molecular eigenstates with a spotlight on QISE applications.

The evolution of quantum science experiences a profound surge through the concerted efforts of SIU-E, Marquette University, and the other QISE recipients, envisioning a future where commonplace flora evolves into sustainable energy sources. This visionary trajectory transcends conventional limitations, promising a sustainable future where quantum scientists unlock unprecedented possibilities.

To better understand the context in which these new innovations could be applied, we spoke with Santiago Nuñez-Corrales, PhD, about the strategic vision for quantum computing at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In his role as a research scientist and quantum lead at NCSA, Nuñez-Corrales is navigating the intricate interplay among quantum computing platforms, algorithms, problems, and human practices crucial for effective problem-solving, attempting to chart a pathway for the seamless integration of high-performance computing (HPC) and quantum computing (QC). NCSA is leveraging its expertise and proficiency in HPC to democratize quantum computing across scientific domains, ensuring accessibility, efficiency, and impact.

Three pivotal platforms emerge: Delta, Nightingale, and HOLL-I. Delta, succeeding Blue Waters, is a leading dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU) supercomputer, beckoning researchers to explore the efficiency of GPU system architecture in data analysis. This computational powerhouse hosts an array of resources, including 124 central processing unit (CPU) nodes, 100 quad A100 GPU nodes, and 100 quad A40 GPU nodes, among others. Researchers harnessing Delta can delve into intricate simulations in computational archaeology and digital agriculture, capitalizing on the system’s non-POSIX file system, modern file system benefits, and enhanced interfaces for widespread accessibility.

Nightingale, a secure and user-friendly HPC cluster, alleviates compliance burdens for research teams handling sensitive data, particularly in healthcare contexts. Researchers accessing Nightingale benefit from a secure computing environment managed by experts, facilitating focused research devoid of concerns about data compliance or security.

Concurrently, HOLL-I emerges as an innovative machine-learning capability at NCSA, boasting the Cerebras CS-2 Wafer Scale Engine. Offering extreme-scale machine-learning prowess, HOLL-I complements resources like Delta and HAL, efficiently facilitating large-scale machine-learning tasks. Using shared project storage on Taiga, a multiplatform file system, HOLL-I distinguishes itself through unparalleled processing speed, serving as an invaluable asset for researchers engaged in intricate machine-learning endeavors.

The plot thickens with the introduction of Clowder 2.0, an open-source data management framework, broadening its reach to a wider contributor base through the revision of core components. Its adaptability and user-friendly interface streamline data management and collaboration, empowering researchers across diverse scientific domains to expedite experimental science. Simultaneously, the transition from iForge to vForge denotes a strategic pivot aimed at streamlining operations for Industry Partners via virtual machines. Harnessing NCSA’s Radiant platform, vForge, an efficient successor to iForge, adopts virtual machines to optimize resource utilization and scalability. This transition allows NCSA to allocate on-site resources for larger projects while enhancing data accessibility across NCSA clusters through streamlined data migration to Taiga.

The climax of this saga materializes as NCSA collaborates with NVIDIA to introduce supercharged quantum processing units, catapulting the organization to the vanguard of quantum computing. Quantum computing will grow with previously unheard-of speed and precision in the future, transforming whole sectors and resolving challenging issues that were previously thought to be unsolvable. This will ultimately change the fundamental foundation of scientific research and technological innovation. As we transition from pioneers to witnesses of an ever-evolving landscape, the upcoming generation stands on the brink of a quantum revolution. As Santiago Nuñez-Corrales mentions, “We are the first generation of quantum people that are not really quantum. People involved in quantum computing in the next 5 years are going to be the first really quantum computing people.”

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Contact the MBDH if you’re aware of other people or projects we should profile here, or to participate in any of our community-led Priority Areas. The MBDH has a variety of ways to get involved with our community and activities. The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub is an NSF-funded partnership of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota, and is focused on developing collaborations in the 12-state Midwest region. Learn more about the national NSF Big Data Hubs community.