Amazon and Harvard launch alliance to advance research in quantum networking


Harvard University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) today announced they have launched a strategic alliance to advance fundamental research and innovation in quantum networking.

AWS, which launched the AWS Center for Quantum Networking earlier this year, will provide funding for faculty-led research at Harvard. That funding will also help build capacity for student recruitment, training, outreach, and workforce development in this key emerging technology field.

The initiative focuses on driving rapid progress toward specific research aims in quantum networking at the Harvard Quantum Initiative (HQI).

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“Quantum networking is an emerging space that can help to address challenges of growing importance to our world, such as secure communication and powerful quantum computing clusters,” said Antia Lamas-Linares, quantum networking lead at AWS. “The collaborative initiative between AWS and Harvard will harness top research talent to explore quantum networking today and establish a framework to develop the quantum workforce of the future.”

“By working together, academia and industry can accelerate discovery and technological progress,” said Harvard provost Alan M. Garber. “Through this alliance with AWS, we will bring scientific scholarship and education to bear on some of the most exciting frontiers in quantum science. Together we will advance the goals of the Harvard Quantum Initiative, an interfaculty initiative that exemplifies the rewards of collaboration across different scientific domains.”

Accelerating the potential for quantum impact

Through a three-year research alliance, enabled by Harvard’s Office of Technology Development, AWS will provide funding for faculty-led and designed research projects in the areas of quantum memory, integrated photonics, and quantum materials.

A portion of that funding will go toward an upgrade to the quantum fabrication capabilities of Harvard’s U.S. National Science Foundation-supported Center for Nanoscale Systems, an important facility for nanofabrication, materials characterization, soft lithography, and imaging, with locations in Cambridge and the Science and Engineering Complex in Allston, both in Massachusetts.

The overall goal of the research projects is to develop foundational methods and technologies for what eventually will become a quantum internet.

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As the world faces threats to privacy and security, exploring possible quantum networking applications is an important area of focus. The behavior of information in a quantum network is expected to enable unprecedented security and anonymity. Yet, for those aspirations to be realized, physicists, engineers, and materials scientists must overcome challenges to store, manipulate, repeat, and transmit quantum information over long distances.

“Exploring this potential requires a deep understanding of the industry’s toughest scientific challenges,” said Lamas-Linares, who will lead the new alliance. “That will lead to the development of new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks.”

“These projects build upon fundamental work that has been done at Harvard labs for well over a decade by several generations of students and postdocs who have pushed the frontiers, starting from theory, to experimental physics, to device engineering, to materials development,” said Mikhail Lukin, the George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics and codirector of HQI.

In parallel with research efforts at Harvard, researchers at AWS will strive to advance the engineering maturity and scalability of quantum memory technology. This effort builds on Amazon’s June 2022 announcement of the AWS Center for Quantum Networking where AWS will focus on addressing scientific and engineering challenges. The goal is to develop new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks that connect and amplify the capabilities of individual quantum processors.

“Quantum networking is a very specific area of research that requires a different focus compared to quantum computing,” said Simone Severini, director, quantum technologies at AWS. “The best way to tackle this problem is to have a dedicated team of scientists and engineers.”

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“Innovation in advanced technology areas like quantum will require collaboration by academic labs, small industry, leading corporations, and likely also government labs,” Lukin added. “It is part of the HQI mission to enable these kinds of collaboration, and this alliance with AWS is a critical step in that direction.”

“In quantum, we have a unique opportunity because the research is still so much in the early stages of basic discovery, yet also at the threshold of commercial implementation,” said HQI codirector Evelyn Hu, the Tarr-Coyne Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering. “This is very unusual in science and technology. For students training in this field, especially, it’s important to get an appreciation of what science and engineering can do, but also what it needs to do to be scaled up, go to the outside world, and be relevant.”

Diversifying the future

In addition to the quantum research collaboration, AWS will also fund the AWS Generation Q Fund at HQI, a new fellowship program for post-baccalaureates, graduate students, and postdocs to train the next-generation of quantum scientists and engineers.

The need to expand America’s quantum technology workforce was noted in a recent set of quantum focused directives from the Biden administration. The goal of the initiative is to begin to establish a diverse talent pipeline of highly qualified researchers to train the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers.

“AWS appreciates that HQI can play a profound and seminal role in helping build the future of the quantum workforce, making opportunities possible for the next generation of leaders and innovators,” said Hu.

Hu emphasized the program helps introduce students to quantum research, including placing them in a research group and providing funds for coursework and to attend and present at conferences.

“Programs that can provide academic bridges are important in bringing in a wider group of people into the community,” said Hu.

“There is a shortage of qualified quantum-educated workforce, and it’s not just physicists but engineers and even people involved in running these businesses,” added Lukin. “We’re in a unique position to contribute,” he explained. “Essentially, all major quantum research centers in the U.S. and abroad have several faculty members and group leaders who have been educated at Harvard.”

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