Pines Sticks a Terrapin Pin in ‘Capital of Quantum’ Map at Global Conference

From a partnership with a leading firm developing futuristic computers to cutting-edge research on a secure new internet, the University of Maryland is at the center of a rapidly growing effort to empower quantum science to address real-world needs, President Darryll J. Pines told the audience at a global quantum conference in Washington, D.C., today.

Pines delivered the opening address at the inaugural Quantum World Congress, a gathering of over 700 researchers, business innovators, industry experts, legislators and others from 19 countries.

At the core of his message was UMD’s science and technology leadership in what he has dubbed the mid-Atlantic “Capital of Quantum” area. It’s a status based on decades of broad-ranging quantum physics—and, more recently, quantum engineering research—along with a steely determination to use the results for good.

“This is important because all of this work isn’t just about new technology and new knowledge, it’s about improving the lives of all humankind through quantum science,” he said. “Quantum is an enabler that will help us tackle the grand challenges of our times.”

UMD’s rise to becoming one of the world’s top quantum research centers (a point Pines underscored for the conference audience by flashing a slide of quantum research paper output showing Maryland second only to MIT) began with a 2006 partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to found the Joint Quantum Institute. Other quantum centers and institutes, including further partnerships with NIST, have followed.

“That partnership between NIST and the University of Maryland remains one of the strongest hubs of quantum science to this day,” he said. 

UMD is now looking to support upcoming quantum firms in a developing business ecosystem based in part around the university’s Quantum Startup Foundry. For inspiration, startups need look no further than IonQ, a university spinoff started by Chris Monroe, a physics professor recruited to the university in 2007.

His discoveries led him and partners to start IonQ based in part on technology developed in his UMD lab. The company, based in the university’s Discovery District, today is one of the leading contenders in a race to develop a general-use quantum computer. The company went public in 2021, the first “pure-play” quantum computing company to do so.

“That day, we celebrated the debut of the first publicly traded quantum computer company, but we also celebrated the birth of a technology that promises to revolutionize all kinds of fields,” Pines said.

Based on a major investment from the university, UMD and IonQ collaborated earlier this year to open the National Quantum User Facility, or Q-Lab, where students, faculty and researchers from around the country can gain access to the company’s leading-edge equipment.

That investment was part of what Pines estimated at $1 billion in buildings, labs and infrastructure to ensure that scientists have the best environment for progress. Among the key projects is a bid to build hardware components of a new internet—one that’s inherently secure—based on the principles of quantum science.

Wrapping up his address, Pines said that continuing to build the Capital of Quantum will require continued investment in research and infrastructure; public-private partnerships; a startup ecosystem to spark new ideas—and a final ingredient: fearlessness.

“Change is hard. Progress is hard. Invention is hard,” he said. “It takes courage to innovate, courage to harness a new field of science.”

This story first appeared in Maryland Today.

Published December 1, 2022