University-Industry Engagement Week

Harvard, AWS launch faculty-led alliance to develop the quantum internet


By David Schwartz
Published: September 20th, 2022

Harvard University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have launched a strategic alliance to advance fundamental research and innovation in quantum networking, with a longer term goal of advancing efforts to build a “quantum internet.”

The three-year deal provides significant funding for faculty-led research at Harvard and will also build capacity for student recruitment, training, outreach, and workforce development in this key emerging technology field. Much of the research work will be conducted by the Harvard Quantum Initiative (HQI).

“By working together, academia and industry can accelerate discovery and technological progress,” said Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber. “Through this alliance with AWS, we will bring scientific scholarship and education to bear on some of the most exciting frontiers in quantum science,” said Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber. “Together we will advance the goals of the Harvard Quantum Initiative, an interfaculty initiative that exemplifies the rewards of collaboration across different scientific domains.”

“Quantum networking is an emerging space with promise to help tackle challenges of growing importance to our world, such as secure communication and powerful quantum computing clusters,” commented Antia Lamas-Linares, quantum networking lead at AWS. “The collaborative initiative between AWS and Harvard will harness top research talent to explore quantum networking today and establish a framework to develop the quantum workforce of the future.”

The deal was shepherded by Harvard’s Office of Technology Development. Under the agreement, AWS will support faculty-led and designed research projects at HQI focused on quantum memories, integrated photonics, and quantum materials. Some of the funding will be used to upgrade the quantum fabrication capabilities of the NSF-supported Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard.

The overall goal of the research is to develop foundational methods and technologies for what eventually will become a quantum internet, where communication and information processing is performed according to the laws of quantum mechanics – a development expected to enable unprecedented online security and anonymity. To realize that goal will require scientists to overcome challenges to store, manipulate, repeat, and transmit quantum information over long distances.

“These projects build upon fundamental work that has been done at Harvard labs for well over a decade by several generations of students and postdocs who have pushed the frontier, starting from theory, to experimental physics, to device engineering, to materials development,” said Mikhail Lukin, professor of physics and co-director of HQI.

The new agreement builds on Amazon’s June announcement around the AWS Center for Quantum Networking, where AWS will focus on developing new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks that connect and amplify the capabilities of individual quantum processors.

“Innovation in advanced technology areas like quantum will require collaboration by academic labs, small industry, leading corporations, and likely also government labs,” Lukin stated. “It is part of the HQI mission to enable these kinds of collaborations, and this alliance with AWS is a critical step in that direction.”

In addition to the quantum research collaboration, philanthropic funding from AWS – in the form of the “AWS Generation Q Fund at the Harvard Quantum Initiative” — will help Harvard train and support graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.

Despite the meteoric growth in quantum research and technology development, there are still not enough quantum experts to take on this work. The goal of the fund is to begin to establish a diverse talent pipeline of highly qualified researchers to train the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers.

“There is a shortage of qualified quantum-educated workforce, and it’s not just physicists but engineers and even people involved in running these businesses,” Lukin observed. We’re in a unique position to contribute,” he explained. “Essentially, all major quantum research centers in the U.S. and abroad have several faculty members and group leaders who have been educated at Harvard.”

Source: Harvard Office of Technology Development

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