Significant scientific breakthroughs have emerged in the field of quantum information science (QIS) over the past decade. This field explores different kinds of quantum computing architectures based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Quantum computers can perform certain computations that classical computers cannot and, therefore, solve some of science's most complex problems. However, the global state of quantum computing is still early-stage.
The United States Department of Energy Office of Science advances national leadership in quantum information science by funding and supporting quantum computing research and development (R&D) across national laboratories and research centers. One of these quantum computing research programs is the Advanced Quantum Testbed (AQT) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). AQT brings together expertise from numerous scientific and engineering disciplines at Berkeley Lab in addition to multiple industry partners, startups, and broader academia.
In deep collaborations with the greater scientific community, AQT aims to address the fundamental problems and engineering roadblocks in quantum information science by exploring superconducting quantum processors, hardware systems, and software to test and refine novel quantum algorithms. The entire quantum computing technology stack – hardware and software – at AQT is based on state-of-the-art superconducting quantum circuits.
As an open testbed for non-proprietary work, AQT encourages research proposals from a diversity of teams. Users collaborate directly with AQT staff without any associated fees and propose projects that last for several weeks to a few months. These projects range from implementing quantum algorithms to novel designs for quantum processors. AQT provides access to the early-stage programming stack and works with users for non-standard software.
Experiments are tailored to the users' unique needs and specifications at no additional cost. Technologies developed elsewhere can also be deployed and field-tested at AQT. This collaborative vision values feedback from users and industry partners at all levels of the experimentation to modify, configure, and upgrade all aspects of the research facility. With a team-science mindset and frequent publications in scientific literature, AQT is committed to serving the wider QIS community by helping to advance the state of the quantum computing industry.
While the state of quantum computation is still in its early stages, and there's a high risk and high cost for entry at the industry's current state, the startup community across the United States and the world begins to flourish. AQT's open platform has made it an ideal hub for startups. Two startup CEOs in Berkeley, California and Chicago, Illinois described their experiences with AQT to build and deploy better hardware and software.
Berkeley-based Bleximo has partnered with AQT since its foundation as an industry partner. Among its diverse portfolio of quantum computing services, Bleximo specializes in cryogenic hardware design, electromagnetic simulations, and quantum chips packaging. It has supported the research and construction of key hardware at AQT. Alexei Marchenkov, Bleximo’s Founder and CEO, offered his insights about the ongoing collaboration:
“The collaboration has been so successful and complementary with lots of learning and sharing. At Bleximo, we have a team of engineers with diverse technical skills with decades of experience at major tech companies. We can learn from some of the world’s best scientists to build systems that, once deployed and operational, perform better.
For the AQT’s dilution refrigerator, we have developed hardware, which allows testing multiple chips simultaneously and quickly re-configure cryogenic microwave set-up. We’ve also developed special chip packaging that shields chips from thermal and electromagnetic radiation. These improvements translated to improved qubit coherence time. We’ve also been helping to improve the designs of the quantum chips themselves; primarily, to reduce cross-talk and filter out undesirable electromagnetic noise.
AQT leverages the field by giving access to external users. People who don’t have access to the equipment that costs many millions of dollars can write a proposal to test new chip designs or conduct experiments on existing chips. There’s also the ability to freely exchange ideas and stay ahead of the curve before the results get published.
As a former career scientist, if I were to start a problem or start the company around an idea, I would have loved to have something like this to test an idea. Given the cost of the equipment just to get started, there’s a lot of barriers to enter the quantum computing sector, especially if you want to develop hardware. This facility is the way for making this kind of research more affordable to both academics and startups.
We leverage the work and research at AQT as a reference and validation for what we are doing at Bleximo. This type of cooperative and research development and agreement with AQT is mutually beneficial. At Bleximo, we look forward to many more years of collaboration with some of the worlds’ best scientists.”
Bleximo CEO, Alexei Marchenkov and AQT Staff on site. 2021. (Credit: Alexei Marchenkov/Bleximo)
The most recent startup to join AQT as a research user is Chicago-based Super.tech. Super.tech received a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the Department of Energy in early 2021 to investigate Increased Reliability for Near-Term Quantum Computers via Low-Level Control. Pranav Gokhale—CEO and Co-founder of Super.tech described the collaboration with AQT.
“We have a contract through the Department of Energy to develop software that addresses the qubits we have today, which are noisy and short lived. This is a very different environment than quantum computing envisioned in the future, with perfect virtual underlying hardware.
To this end, we're collaborating with AQT as a user to develop the software that gets more mileage out of the hardware that is under the hood. What's unique about the opportunity to work with AQT as a user is to have access to the hardware properties that you wouldn't usually get from working elsewhere.
The fact that AQT is conducting high-risk R&D is valuable. We want to be exploring hardware that'll matter beyond today and for the next ten to twenty years. But I think the most significant value to startup entrepreneurs is that the AQT platform is designed to be modified, forked, and flexible. There are actually opportunities for new startups like us to get involved in the low level of software design. It is reminiscent of software design in the 1950s, which needed to happen hand-in-hand with the hardware design. At AQT, we're getting deep into discussions about how the hardware operates at the true fundamental physics levels. The talks with AQT scientists and researchers unlock a lot of value for us to improve the gate errors and improve the reliability of the underlying hardware.
AQT is giving us access to as much of the system as possible. I would specifically point to one manner of interaction that we've had: pair programming with AQT graduate students and software engineers. We meet every week for three to four hours and collaborate in real-time. One of us shares screens, the other guides on how to write code or brainstorm ideas. This interaction is really cool and unique. We don't have many opportunities to work with people who have their feet on the ground by building and designing these quantum computing hardware systems. This working relationship with AQT is very valuable to us.
We want to continue to be a very close partner of all of the DOE's quantum computing testbeds. Specifically, with AQT, we'd like to continue developing software that performs compilation for them: bridging the gap from practical applications to the underlying hardware. Right now, there's often a treatment of compilers in a sort of jack of all trades, master of none fashion, where the individual capabilities of specific hardware are not taken into account. We envision building software that enables the end-users of quantum computing to finely tailor their applications to AQT's hardware and other DOE hardware. When startups engage with the government, we help move our nation's science efforts forward.”
AQT Staff, Akel Hashim, and Super.tech. CEO Pranav Gokhale and Quantum Software Engineer Victory Omole. (Credit: Pranav Gokhale/Super.tech)
The Advanced Quantum Testbed is Open for Collaborative Research
AQT is proud to explore the next generation of superconducting quantum computation with startups as industry partners and research users. Committed to helping create a broad quantum computing community, research proposals from diverse and inclusive teams are strongly encouraged.
Projects may be proposed in the following areas:
• Implementations of Quantum Computation Algorithms or Quantum Simulations
• Quantum Characterization, Validation, and Control Routines
• Novel Control Hardware / Firmware / Software
• Novel Superconducting Quantum Processor Architectures
As a starting point in the application process, prospective users can submit a brief User Letter of Intent (LOI) through the online form. The AQT Staff reviews all Letters of Intent on a rolling basis. For more detailed information about the User Letter of Intent and Proposal Guide – 2021, visit: https://aqt.lbl.gov/new-users/
Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab's facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.