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Strength of partnership leads to NC State’s selection in IBM quantum initiative

By David Schwartz
Published: July 9th, 2019

The long and strong partnership between NC State and IBM, and NC State’s track record in industry engagement, were key factors in its selection by IBM as the first university in North America to participate in its quantum computing “Q Hub” program, more formally known as IBM Q Network Hubs. IBM now has seven in all, including hubs at Oxford University in the UK and institutions in Australia and Japan. The “hub” is a cloud-based portal to IBM’s quantum computing network. Through this new partnership, NC State students will be able to learn about quantum computing and both students and faculty can employ the new technology in research projects.

There will be several courses available at the university related to the quantum hub, and students and faculty could employ it in a wide range of research arenas including chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

There were several reasons why NC State was chosen, says Anthony Annunziata, IBM’s global lead for quantum computing. “They made a compelling partner,” he declares. “We have a long history — several decades of many fruitful collaborations. Many former students now work at IBM. There is a very strong mutual history of success in just this sort of university/industry engagement — which is tough to get right. Second, they have a very rich history and presence with industry. There is lots of industry on campus, and strong collaborations. They love doing this. Some people talk about it; they live and do it every day. And third, they saw the vision early, saw the opportunity. And they’re extremely optimistic.”

“IBM has been a wonderful partner. It’s long-standing and deep — 30 years and going strong,” says Patrick Dreher, PhD, chief scientist for the initiative. “Specifically, for the IBM Q Hub they’ve appointed a client technical lead on the PhD level in computer science. They support the Q Hub activities not only on the education side, but through staffing access as well as direct access to IBM in Yorktown Heights, NY.”

And Daniel Stancil, PhD, executive director of the IBM Q Hub at NC State and head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, notes that the university is also in close proximity to a large IBM facility in Research Triangle Park. “IBM actually has an innovation center on Centennial Campus [a new innovation-focused development at the school] for facilitating interactions between the two of us,” he adds. Stancil oversees the hub’s strategic operations, including partnerships with industry, government and other universities.

“We at the university have of course realized that while there has been an enormous amount of progress in quantum computing in the past few years, there are still lots of technical challenges,” adds Stancil, citing one of the reasons Q Hubs are needed. “The promise can be realized, and industry is on the verge of some significant expansion — but the talent pipeline is inadequate. We feel as a major university with a good relationship, there’s a real opportunity. This partnership, and the opportunity to be the first North American hub, positions us strategically so we can have maximum impact in trying to satisfy those growing challenges.”

Annunziata agrees. “About two years ago the field of quantum computing had really accelerated beyond the pure science phase, to where the path to commercial relevance had become clearer,” he says. “But we’re still not at a level that can solve real-world problems today. We launched IBM Q Hubs as a mission to bring it to the world. We think we can be effective partnering with universities or research organizations to create programs and engage industry and other organizations together.”

A detailed article on the IBM-Q partnership at NC State appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription details, CLICK HERE.

Get the full story and dozens more like it – including the entire archive of back issues – with a subscription to University-Industry Engagement Advisor. CLICK HERE for details.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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