JILA Participates in the Inaugural NSF Quantum Showcase on Capitol Hill

Submitted by kennac on Mon, 05/13/2024 - 12:14 pm

To highlight the pivotal role of federal funding in advancing quantum research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted its inaugural Quantum Showcase on Capitol Hill two weeks ago.  The event highlighted the potential of government-funded quantum initiatives and included NSF-funded quantum researchers nationwide. JILA, a joint institute between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST, was represented at the event by JILA Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics Professor Heather Lewandowski and JILA graduate student Qizhong Liang, a member of JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye’s research group. 

With support from the CU system Office of Government Relations, Lewandowski and Liang also met with staff from Colorado’s congressional delegation during their day at the Capitol to discuss the university's quantum strengths and priorities.

The NSF’s showcase featured a variety of ongoing programs nationwide, emphasizing their potential influences on future technology and global competitiveness. The event heavily focused on bridging quantum research and theory with real-world applications, giving audiences of all backgrounds, including policymakers and their staff, something to look forward to. 

During the event, lawmakers, including those leading the  U.S. House’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee, directly engaged with participants like Lewandowski and Liang and emphasized the importance of quantum research, including passing the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act, legislation designed to advance quantum science and technology in the U.S. NSF Director Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan spoke directly to Liang and Lewandowski as they highlighted the ongoing NSF-sponsored innovations happening at JILA, including a novel research project focusing on laser combs. 

“The laser breathalyzer we built for detecting COVID-19 is the first demonstration of how optical frequency combs, a Nobel-winning laser technology born in JILA, can be used in non-invasive medical diagnostics,” Liang elaborates. “We are thrilled to see how many other medical conditions, including asthma, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can potentially be simultaneously detected simply by measuring the exhaled breath molecular contents in a non-invasive, low-cost, and real-time manner.” 

Scott Sternberg, Executive Director of the CUbit Quantum Initiative, a partnership between CU Boulder, JILA/NIST, and industry, was also on Capitol Hill for a Quantum Stakeholders Day, and stopped by the showcase.  

The timing of this inaugural showcase is notable, as Colorado has become one of the nation's key hubs for quantum research and industry in the last twenty years. Institutions like JILA, NIST, and CU Boulder are crucial to this Front Range hub. CU Boulder’s Physics department, of which many faculty are also JILA Fellows, consistently ranks highly among the top ten universities for its quantum physics program, attracting top talent for the next generation of the quantum workforce. 

At JILA, the collaborative environment and cutting-edge facilities help drive advancements in quantum computing, sensing, communication, and more, contributing to the nation’s quantum ecosystem. JILA also hosts three NSF-funded science centers within the Institute, including the Physics Frontier Center; Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering (Q-SEnSE), an NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute; and STROBE, an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC). These NSF-supported centers are key in advancing novel quantum research happening within the institute. 

The centers also play a crucial role in educating the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers. Programs like the Quantum Forge course at CU Boulder aim to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle the challenges of quantum technology, fostering a diverse and highly skilled workforce. 

At the government level, quantum educational initiatives are gaining momentum as policymakers recognize the importance of preparing a skilled workforce for the quantum era. Programs like the 2022 QIST (Quantum Information Science and Technology) Workforce Development Plan, the National Q-12 Education Partnership (which exposes K-12 schools to more quantum education tools), or the ExpandQISE, an NSF-funded program specifically focused on educating students from underrepresented backgrounds in quantum technology and engineering aim to accelerate the development of quantum technologies through targeted investments in education, training, and workforce development. 

These initiatives prioritize collaboration between government agencies, academia, and industry to ensure students and professionals access cutting-edge quantum education and training programs. Events like the NSF showcase serve as critical platforms to highlight the real-world use cases of government-funded quantum research, where advocates like Lewandowski and Liang can emphasize the importance of this sustained investment by the U.S. government. 

“It was a great opportunity to highlight the exciting science and education efforts happening at JILA and CU broadly,” Lewandowski explains, “We were able to engage with a large variety of congressional staffers about the importance of NSF-sponsored research and education efforts.”

Written by Kenna Hughes-Castleberry, JILA Science Communicator 

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