NSF Establishes 3 Institutes to Address "Quantum Computing Challenge"

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is establishing three new institutes "designed to have a tangible impact" on the challenges presented by quantum computing over the next five years.

Developed in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes (QLCI)  are a central piece of the NSF's response to key federal initiatives to advance quantum information science, the foundation said in a statement, including the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018 and the White House's "ongoing focus on American leadership in emerging technologies."

The QLCI's also form the centerpiece of NSF's "Quantum Leap," an ongoing, agency-wide effort to enable quantum systems research and development.

"Quantum information science has the potential to change the world," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. "But to realize that potential, we must first answer some fundamental research questions. Through the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes, NSF is making targeted investments. Within five years, we are confident these institutes can make tangible advances to help carry us into a true quantum revolution."

The NSF established Quantum Leap Challenge program in February as large-scale interdisciplinary research projects focused on quantum information science and engineering. The three QLCI's announced in July are starting with $75 million in funding from the U.S. government.

The three institutes are:

  • The QLCI for Enhanced Sensing and Distribution Using Correlated Quantum States. This institute, led by the University of Colorado, will focus on designing, building, and employing quantum sensing technology for a range of applications in precision measurement. "Quantum sensors that can measure everything from radiation levels to the effects of gravity will be more sensitive and accurate than classical sensors," the NSF says.
  • The QLCI for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks. This institute, led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will focus on building interconnected networks of small-scale quantum processors and testing their functionality for practical applications. "Developing more robust quantum processors is a significant challenge in quantum information science and engineering," the NSF says.
  • The QLCI for Present and Future Quantum Computing. This institute, led by the University of California, Berkeley, aims to learn from the current crop of quantum computing prototypes, which are "are rudimentary, error-prone, and small-scale," the NSF says. The institute will focus on learning from this tech to improve the design of advanced, large-scale quantum computers, develop efficient algorithms for current and future quantum computing platforms, and "ultimately demonstrate that quantum computers outperform even the best conceivable classical computers."


The institutes comprise an interconnected community of 16 core academic institutions, 8 national laboratories, and 22 industry partners. By "integrating the perspectives and resources of multiple disciplines and sectors," the institutes will promote "a sustainable ecosystem for innovation." Along with their primary research efforts, these centers will also develop training and education strategies for "a diverse, quantum-ready U.S. workforce," including the development of new in-person and online curricula for students and teachers at all educational levels, from primary school to professionals.

'There is a sense that we are on the precipice of a really big move toward quantum computing," Dan Stamper-Kurn, UC Berkeley professor of physics and director of the institute, told the UC Berkeley News. "We think that the development of the quantum computer will be a real scientific revolution, the defining scientific challenge of the moment, especially if you think about the fact that the computer plays a central role in just about everything society does. If you have a chance to revolutionize what a computer is, then you revolutionize just about everything else."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at