Chicago Quantum Exchange to create technologically transformative ecosystem

This article discusses the collaboration between University of Chicago, Argonne and Fermilab on advancing quantum information in regard to science and engineering. This will include academic, industrial and governmental efforts. The hub will be called the Chicago Quantum Exchange.


Chicago Quantum Exchange to create technologically transformative ecosystem

UChicago, Argonne, Fermilab prepare for quantum information revolution

Quantum dot blinking
UChicago and affiliated laboratories to collaborate on advancing the science and engineering of quantum information.
Courtesy of
Nicholas Brawand

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

This hub within the Institute for Molecular Engineering, called the Chicago Quantum Exchange, will facilitate the exploration of quantum information and the development of new applications with the potential to dramatically improve technology for communication, computing and sensing. The collaboration will include scientists and engineers from the two national labs and IME, as well as scholars from UChicago’s departments of physics, chemistry, computer science, and astronomy and astrophysics.

Quantum mechanics governs the behavior of matter at the atomic and subatomic levels in exotic and unfamiliar ways compared to the classical physics used to understand the movements of everyday objects. The engineering of quantum phenomena could lead to new classes of devices and computing capabilities, permitting novel approaches to solving problems that cannot be addressed using existing technology.

“The combination of the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, working together as the Chicago Quantum Exchange, is unique in the domain of quantum information science,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean and founding Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne’s deputy laboratory director for science. “The CQE’s capabilities will span the range of quantum information—from basic solid-state experimental and theoretical physics, to device design and fabrication, to algorithm and software development. CQE aims to integrate and exploit these capabilities to create a quantum information technology ecosystem.”

Serving as director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange will be David Awschalom, UChicago’s Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and an Argonne senior scientist. Discussions about establishing a trailblazing quantum engineering initiative began soon after Awschalom joined the UChicago faculty in 2013 when he proposed this concept, and were subsequently developed through the recruitment of faculty and the creation of state-of-the-art measurement laboratories.

“We are at a remarkable moment in science and engineering, where a stream of scientific discoveries are yielding new ways to create, control and communicate between quantum states of matter,” Awschalom said. “Efforts in Chicago and around the world are leading to the development of fundamentally new technologies, where information is manipulated at the atomic scale and governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Transformative technologies are likely to emerge with far-reaching applications—ranging from ultra-sensitive sensors for biomedical imaging to secure communication networks to new paradigms for computation. In addition, they are making us re-think the meaning of information itself.”

The collaboration will benefit from UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which supports the creation of innovative businesses connected to UChicago and Chicago’s South Side. The CQE will have a strong connection with a major Hyde Park innovation project that was announced recently as the second phase of the Harper Court development on the north side of 53rd Street, and will include an expansion of Polsky Center activities. This project will enable the transition from laboratory discoveries to societal applications through industrial collaborations and startup initiatives.

Companies large and small are positioning themselves to make a far-reaching impact with this new quantum technology. Alumni of IME’s quantum engineering PhD program have been recruited to work for many of these companies. The creation of CQE will allow for new linkages and collaborations with industry, governmental agencies and other academic institutions, as well as support from the Polsky Center for new startup ventures.

This new quantum ecosystem will provide a collaborative environment for researchers to invent technologies in which all the components of information processing—sensing, computation, storage and communication—are kept in the quantum world, Awschalom said. This contrasts with today’s mainstream computer systems, which frequently transform electronic signals from laptop computers into light for internet transmission via fiber optics, transforming them back into electronic signals when they arrive at their target computers, finally to become stored as magnetic data on hard drives.

IME’s quantum engineering program is already training a new workforce of “quantum engineers” to meet the need of industry, government laboratories and universities. The program now consists of eight faculty members and more than 100 postdoctoral scientists and doctoral students. Approximately 20 faculty members from UChicago’s Physical Sciences Division also pursue quantum research. These include David Schuster, assistant professor in physics, who collaborates with Argonne and Fermilab researchers.

Combining strengths in quantum information

The collaboration will rely on the distinctive strengths of the University and the two national laboratories, both of which are located in the Chicago suburbs and have longstanding affiliations with the University of Chicago.

At Argonne, approximately 20 researchers conduct quantum-related research through joint appointments at the laboratory and UChicago. Fermilab has about 25 scientists and technicians working on quantum research initiatives related to the development of particle sensors, quantum computing and quantum algorithms.

“This is a great time to invest in quantum materials and quantum information systems,” said Supratik Guha, director of Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology Division and a professor of molecular engineering at UChicago. “We have extensive state-of-the-art capabilities in this area.”

Argonne proposed the first recognizable theoretical framework for a quantum computer, work conducted in the early 1980s by Paul Benioff. Today, including joint appointees, Argonne’s expertise spans the spectrum of quantum sensing, quantum computing, classical computing and materials science.

Argonne and UChicago already have invested approximately $6 million to build comprehensive materials synthesis facilities—called “The Quantum Factory”—at both locations. Guha, for example, has installed state-of-the-art deposition systems that he uses to layer atoms of materials needed for building quantum structures.

“Together we will have comprehensive capabilities to be able to grow and synthesize one-, two- and three-dimensional quantum structures for the future,” Guha said. These structures, called quantum bits—qubits—serve as the building blocks for quantum computing and quantum sensing.

Argonne also has theorists who can help identify problems in physics and chemistry that could be solved via quantum computing. Argonne’s experts in algorithms, operating systems and systems software, led by Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director and UChicago professor in computer science, will play a critical role as well, because no quantum computer will be able to operate without connecting to a classical computer.

Fermilab’s interest in quantum computing stems from the enhanced capabilities that the technology could offer within 15 years, said Joseph Lykken, Fermilab deputy director and senior scientist.

“The Large Hadron Collider experiments, ATLAS and CMS, will still be running 15 years from now,” Lykken said. “Our neutrino experiment, DUNE, will still be running 15 years from now. Computing is integral to particle physics discoveries, so advances that are 15 years away in high-energy physics are developments that we have to start thinking about right now.”

Lykken noted that almost any quantum computing technology is, by definition, a device with atomic-level sensitivity that potentially could be applied to sensitive particle physics experiments. An ongoing Fermilab-UChicago collaboration is exploring the use of quantum computing for axion detection. Axions are candidate particles for dark matter, an invisible mass of unknown composition that accounts for 85 percent of the mass of the universe.

Another collaboration with UChicago involves developing quantum computer technology that uses photons in superconducting radio frequency cavities for data storage and error correction. These photons are light particles emitted as microwaves. Scientists expect the control and measurement of microwave photons to become important components of quantum computers.

“We build the best superconducting microwave cavities in the world, but we build them for accelerators,” Lykken said. Fermilab is collaborating with UChicago to adapt the technology for quantum applications.

Fermilab also has partnered with the California Institute of Technology and AT&T to develop a prototype quantum information network at the lab. Fermilab, Caltech and AT&T have long collaborated to efficiently transmit the Large Hadron Collider’s massive data sets. The project, a quantum internet demonstration of sorts, is called INQNET (INtelligent Quantum NEtworks and Technologies).

Fermilab also is working to increase the scale of today’s quantum computers. Fermilab can contribute to this effort because quantum computers are complicated, sensitive, cryogenic devices. The laboratory has decades of experience in scaling up such devices for high-energy physics applications.

“It’s one of the main things that we do,” Lykken said.

In Stevanovich Institute lecture, Jared Diamond examines evolution of religion

Jared Diamond discusses the evolution of religion in a lecture at the Stevanovich Institute in Chicago. Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel. Also included in this article from the University of Chicago, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the Director of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge interviews the author.


In Stevanovich Institute lecture, Jared Diamond examines evolution of religion

Pulitzer Prize-winning author discusses research, ‘curious beliefs’ of humans

Jared Diamond lecture
Prof. Jared Diamond delivers the inaugural lecture for the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, held April 20 at Kent Hall.
Photo by
Jean Lachat


In delivering the inaugural lecture of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, renowned scholar Jared Diamond pondered the evolution and impact of religion in human society.

“Religion offers lots of power. Religion wasn’t invented from scratch, religion didn’t suddenly appear,” he said. “Religion was something that evolved gradually over the course of modern Homo sapiens.”

In his April 20 address, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel combined astronomy and philosophy to explore the functions and origins of religion in society—asking the same kinds of broad questions that the Stevanovich Institute examines regarding human knowledge.

“His ability to speak, both to academics and to the public, the range of his research beyond disciplinary boundaries, and his support of cross-cultural understanding are skills we admire and hope to emulate,” said Prof. Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, the institute’s director, who introduced Diamond to a packed lecture hall.

A professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, Diamond’s academic research studies society through a variety of lenses. In his lecture, Diamond outlined the core tenets of religion in society—the belief in a divine creator, moral codes and an afterlife. Observing that all human societies have some kind of religion, he concluded that religion must have had functions and advantages that allowed it to persist this long.

“Religion must have evolved gradually over the last 70,000 years,” Diamond said. “Religion is a byproduct of the enlarged human brain, which gives us an enormous advantage by allowing us to deduce what’s called agency, to deduce cause and effect in other humans, to deduce motivations in other humans, and to deduce cause and effect in animals.”

He examined the historical advantages of human religion in the contemporary world, in which Diamond said people increasingly seek explanation of the world from science rather than religion, and where inequality is increasing and religion is a less acceptable justification for war.

Diamond asserted religion’s oldest functions include explaining the world, reducing anxiety in the face of danger, and providing comfort, hope and meaning when life is difficult. A more secular society added other functions—a leader claiming divinity for legitimacy and demanding obedience, creating moral codes and behaviors, and justifying war.

Diamond even pondered what extraterrestrials traveling to Earth might observe about human society. “Put yourself in the position of a visitor from one of those planets, like the Andromeda Nebula,” he said. “These humans have some curious beliefs as well as habits.”

The talk concluded with questions from the audience, ranging from the possibility of life on other planets to Marx’s critique of religion. Diamond emphasized the strength of religion, particularly when asked about repression of religion.

“When societies have attempted to repress religions, as in Communist Russia, religions have gone underground,” Diamond said. In other words, even the possibility of an atheistic society is negated by the tenacity of religious belief.

Formally established in 2016, the institute brings together faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars to work across disciplines. The Stevanovich Institute also offers classes to students, produces a biannual journal and hosts a variety of events. Next fall, the institute will be moving into a newly renovated space and hosting an inaugural conference on Nov. 16-18.


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Ivan Samstein joins University of Chicago as vice president and chief financial officer

Current CFO for Cook County, Ivan Samstein, will now be VP and CFO for the University of Chicago which will take effect June 26th.

Ivan Samstein joins University as vice president and chief financial officer

Ivan Samstein, the current chief financial officer for Cook County and a longtime leader in public finance, has been appointed vice president and chief financial officer for the University of Chicago, following a national search. His appointment is effective June 26.

As CFO for Cook County, Samstein has had primary responsibility for the budget, capital and debt structure for the second-largest county government and associated health system in the country. During Samstein’s tenure, he has successfully designed and led several transformative projects in financial operations, technology, program-based budgeting and performance metric-driven management. He previously held positions as an investment banker and a financial analyst.

At UChicago, Samstein will help lead integrated strategic financial planning and provide oversight for the execution of the University’s work in financial analysis and functions, information technology and human resources.

“Ivan will work to ensure that ongoing analysis, discipline and appropriate organization best support and serve the ambitious academic mission and priorities of the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “He will work closely with the provost and me, as well as with deans, officers and the board of trustees.”

Before he joined Cook County in 2012, Samstein was a director in the public finance department at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where he served as lead banker on a large portfolio of fixed-income securities from 2004-11. As assistant vice president in public finance for Moody’s Investors Service from 1999-2004, he evaluated fiscal, debt, budgetary, and risk management policies and procedures of municipalities across the Midwest.

“The University of Chicago is not only one of the world’s leading academic institutions, but is also an anchor for the greater Chicago economy and has an active commitment to that role. That is one of the things that attracted me to this position,” Samstein said. “I look forward to taking on this exciting new challenge and continuing to build out the University’s financial administrative function.”

Samstein holds a bachelor of arts in economics, magna cum laude, from Hunter College of the City University of New York, and he earned an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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