Interdisciplinary Initiative in Quantum Science Launched

Project bridges disciplines, connecting dozens of faculty thought leaders to pursue fundamental breakthroughs

Northwestern University announced on April 29 the launch of a new interdisciplinary initiative to integrate and advance its strengths in quantum science, a field that promises to transform communications, security, metrology, sensing, and computing.

The Initiative at Northwestern for Quantum Information Research and Engineering (INQUIRE) is designed to bridge multiple academic domains, bringing together faculty from the University’s top-ranked departments, including chemistry and materials science and engineering, as well as physics and astronomy; electrical and computer engineering; and computer science. An integral part of the initiative is collaboration with Northwestern’s University Research Institutes and Centers, cross-disciplinary knowledge hubs.

Northwestern also has joined the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a robust and growing collaboration of academic and government partners whose efforts aim at advancing transformative quantum science. 

By combining research strengths across multiple disciplines, INQUIRE will focus on fundamental scientific hurdles. Solving those challenges is vital for national security and the US economy and will help drive the next generation of quantum technologies for communications, networking, computing, sensing applications, and more. Because of this array of potential impacts, quantum science and engineering has emerged as a rich interdisciplinary field, one that has attracted increased interest and funding from the federal government. Last December President Trump signed into law the National Quantum Initiative Act, a 10-year program that authorizes more than $1 billion for quantum information science through the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Northwestern’s boundary-spanning scientific excellence has already helped define the ‘first wave’ of quantum-related technologies, such as semiconductor microelectronics and lasers,” said Michael Wasielewski, the Clare Hamilton Hall Professor of Chemistry. “Now our scientists are focused on breakthroughs to advance the next wave of this research."

Those investigations include creating the materials and methods to propel the future of quantum science:

  • By using bottom-up molecular and nanoscale synthetic approaches, researchers at Northwestern are producing the next-generation of quantum materials to make large-area qubit arrays with potential operation up to room temperature, breakthroughs that could transform quantum computing and information processing.
  • Northwestern materials informatics and data science researchers have demonstrated a design methodology that can create new quantum materials much faster and with less cost.
  • Northwestern has made groundbreaking advances in secure quantum communications, including patented sources of entangled photons used in encrypting fiber-optic quantum networking.
  • The University’s scientists have developed world-class characterization tools to observe and control quantum phenomena — including suspending a single electron for months while measuring it to an unprecedented precision of three parts in 10 trillion.

“One of the important goals for this new initiative is to provide the infrastructure for better positioning Northwestern’s excellence in quantum science and engineering, nationally and globally,” said Fruma Yehiely, associate vice president for research, who has helped spearhead the effort, which includes a digital presence. “We have dozens of investigators with solid track records in quantum science. Now we are taking actions to further support and catalyze this range of world-class talent and bringing our achievements to the next level. Moreover, our initiative aims to address the need for professionals in quantum science by developing new curricula for interdisciplinary training of undergraduate and graduate students.”

INQUIRE is being led by an executive committee of faculty with deep domain expertise essential to advancing quantum science at Northwestern:

The executive committee is supported by an advisory committee of faculty from across departments and schools that provides advice on strategic framing and future directions.

“Collaborative science is at the heart of Northwestern’s research success,” said Jay Walsh, vice president for research. “We have created an ecosystem that encourages cross-disciplinary discovery, while ensuring that deep fundamental research continues within individual domains. Initiatives such as INQUIRE help to galvanize our talent and enable Northwestern to extend its research impact by engaging with colleagues beyond the University, regionally, nationally, and internationally.”

Northwestern faculty who are working on quantum-related research are invited and encouraged to reach out to the INQUIRE team to learn how they can contribute to the Initiative.