Chicago Is at the Center of a National Push for ‘Quantum Internet’

July 24, 2020
quantum energy Illinois lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks up quantum energy at the University of Chicago on Thursday. | Photo: Twitter

The Department of Energy (DOE) just unveiled a plan to develop nationwide quantum internet — and Illinois is at the center of it.

During a press conference at the University of Chicago on Thursday, DOE representatives announced that two state laboratories and a prominent local research institution will play a key role in developing quantum internet for all.

“Decades from now, when we look back to the beginnings of the quantum internet, we’ll be able to say that the original nexus points were here in Chicago — at Fermilab, Argonne and the University of Chicago,” said Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab.

The Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont and Fermilab in Batavia will join the 15 other national research laboratories in developing the nationwide quantum communication network. The University of Chicago is also involved in development efforts, and Fermilab said it is also working with the California Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and a few undisclosed tech startups to develop the architecture and eventually deploy quantum communication nodes across Chicago. In the suburbs, the work has already begun.

In February, Argonne and the University of Chicago unveiled a 52-mile “quantum loop” in the area surrounding the city, which represents one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the nation. That network will soon be connected to the Fermilab, and stretch to 80 miles.

The national project is a direct response to the National Quantum Initiative Act, a 2018 law that deploys a number of initiatives to accelerate the development of quantum information science and technology applications. The DOE noted that nationwide quantum internet is currently in its initial stages of development.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said developing the quantum internet could give the United States a cybersecurity, cryptic cryptology and quantum computing edge over other nations.

“Quantum internet is not something that’s on the tip of the tongue of everyone, but I think we all recognize the importance of this moment and the power that it possesses to really change everything in the way in which we process information and also security on the internet,” Lightfoot said during the press conference.

The news comes on the heels of a Tuesday announcement that the University of Illinois–Champaign-Urbana received federal investment to build a Quantum Leap Challenge Institute. U of I joins two other national universities — the University of Colorado and the University of California–Berkeley — that are responsible for building the institutes, which will focus on developing knowledge of quantum information science and engineering. Over the next five years, each university will receive up to $25 million in federal funding. Each has already been awarded $7.7 million to build the centers.

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