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.


Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics

Review of 2013-2014 Accomplishments and Activities

Thanks to your philanthropic partnership with the University of Chicago, the past year has yielded impressive results across campus and beyond.

The following sections provide an updated snapshot of the far-reaching impact of your generosity on the University community.

  • Seminars at the Stevanovich Center: Seminars led by University of Chicago researchers as well as visitors from academia and the marketplace work, meet, discuss, share and debate ideas that advance our understanding of the mathematical basis of financial markets.
  • Stevanovich Student Fellowships: The Stevanovich Student Fellowship is awarded to University of Chicago PhD students in economics, mathematics, or statistics who work on novel techniques in financial econometrics/statistics and/or financial mathematics, or econometrics/statistics research that could lead to applications in finance and economics.
  • Stevanovich Center Conferences: At its core, the Stevanovich Center advances the understanding of the increasingly complex world of financial markets by integrating mathematics, statistics, and economics. Both faculty and students are spread around the departments of the university and the Stevanovich Center is a meeting place for interaction.
  • Karl Weintraub Professorship in History and the College: Constantin Fasolt continues to serve with distinction as the Karl J. Weintraub Professor of History and the College.

Retrieved from

2016-2018 Research Theme at Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge: Comparing Practices of Knowledge

Excerpt from the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge’s website:

“The SIFK 2016-18 research theme is Comparing Practices of Knowledge.  The intensity of contemporary culture contact is providing dramatic illustration of the potential for confluence between frameworks for knowledge—Scientific?  Indigenous?  Non-western?  Religious? Universalizing? Local?  We invite scholars to do research at the meeting point of these different frameworks, delineating each framework’s particular approach to the legitimization of knowledge and explaining the impact of different knowledge-assumptions.

Knowledge claims require a context of assumptions and purposes in order to make sense.  Different eras and areas often offer different frameworks of explanation, different tacit understandings of how the world works and what it means to give reasons.  What binds or associates different ways of knowing to one another, and what divides them?  How has the existence of these multiple systems been studied in the past, and how should they be studied now?

A long-standing problem arises from the tales that practitioners of one form of knowledge tell about themselves.  These not only justify their asserted facts, but their very ways of acquiring and verifying knowledge:  knowledge not simply as lists of propositions, but knowledge as practice.  These dynamics raise the question of whether any one form of knowledge can easily account for, let alone make room for, any other?

Such situations bring the institutions we know well (fact-finding, archiving, critical assessment, experiment) in contact with institutions that apply different criteria to legitimate knowledge claims. Is it a matter of the majority culture making room for the exception, of confluence between different streams (as if a common denominator could be found), or of such far-reaching incompatibility that only words like alternative can describe the relation among the fields of knowledge?

The notion of rationality and its connection to science may serve as a case in point.  According to a common view, rational activity consists in the derivation of abstract principles from observations or experiments that have been conducted methodically and applied to an extended range of objects or events in order to understand their behavior or predict their dispositions.  This description would fit many different kinds of knowledge systems, which might thus be considered rational. Knowledge systems the world over might therefore be studied as rational or, indeed, claim rationality for themselves.  Many knowledge systems, including those of Plato, medieval Christianity and the post-Cartesian West, claim to have discovered their principles, and not just their facts, out there in the world, or to have received them from some source beyond the human.  They arrogate to themselves a universality and necessity, which sanctions them to judge other claims to knowledge that might look rather different.

Such rationalities also press us to ask what purpose they might serve if not the scientific one of providing predictability about the natural world and improving life quality through the adaptation of technology.  This invites us to ask what exactly those scientific practices are (e.g. experiment, quantification, peer review); how they stand in relationship to other modes of acquiring knowledge; and what claims might be unique to this form of knowledge alone.

These questions broadly underpin the Stevanovich Institute’s 2016-18 research agenda. Our aim is to put different approaches towards knowledge in discourse with each other even as we conduct “deep digs” into those approaches.”