Amazon and Harvard in Quantum Networking Research Alliance

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Harvard University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced an alliance to advance research in quantum networking. AWS, which launched the AWS Center for Quantum Networking earlier this year, will provide funding for faculty-led research at Harvard. Harvard and AWS said the funding will also go toward student recruitment, training, outreach and workforce development.

The effort focuses on driving research aims at the Harvard Quantum Initiative (HQI). The three-year alliance is headed by Harvard’s Office of Technology Development. AWS will provide support for 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.

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

“Quantum networking is an emerging space with promise to help tackle 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.”

The alliance is intended to counter global threats to privacy and security, exploring quantum networking applications. “The behavior of information in a quantum network is expected to enable unprecedented security and anonymity,” Amazon said in its announcement. “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.”

“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.”

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

“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 frontier, 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. The company said its announcement builds on Amazon’s June 2022 announcement around the AWS Center for Quantum Networking where AWS will focus on addressing scientific and engineering challenges with the goal to develop new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks that connect and amplify the capabilities of individual quantum processors. The alliance will be led by Lamas-Linares, who also leads Amazon’s quantum networking research.

“Quantum networking is a very specific area of research that requires 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.”

“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 collaborations, 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 weeds 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.”

In addition to the quantum research collaboration, AWS will contribute to the AWS Generation Q Fund at the Harvard Quantum Initiative, a new fellowship programs 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 recognized that HQI will 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.
“These outreach programs 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.”