Friday morning, I traveled to New York City to witness IonQ — the revolutionary startup born out of research at the University of Maryland, where I am president — become the first publicly traded pure-play hardware and software company in the quantum computing space. As I prepared to stand alongside IonQ’s founders and leaders to ring the ceremonial bell, I was struck by a heavy realization: It’s here — the quantum revolution I’ve been preparing for, talking about incessantly, and working tirelessly to champion has arrived.
Think about personalized medicine — not just a vaccine, but a vaccine designed just for you. Think about climate change and having the computational power to actually tackle it and reverse the damage we humans have caused to our planet. Quantum makes it ever-so-much-more possible. It’s going to be a game-changer for the entire Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area.
Quantum is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the truth is, it is nowhere near new. At its essence, quantum physics is simply the study of how the tiniest particles — those at the subatomic level — behave and interact, which, in many ways, are counterintuitive to the classical laws of physics. Trust me: It is mind-blowing, fascinating stuff. But I won’t try to win you over with a deep dive into the quantum universe.
I will, however, brag about how researchers at the University of Maryland have been working in different areas of quantum for more than three decades. Currently, we have 200 scientists — one of the largest concentrations of quantum talent in the world — combining physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering and materials science to advance our understanding of quantum and how it could lead to new technology and applications. Add to that seven interdisciplinary quantum-focused centers and collaborations with federal agencies, industry leaders and research institutions around the world. Not to mention, IonQ, which is headquartered in our Discovery District in College Park and debuted on the stock market as NYSE: IONQ through a transaction that valued the company at $2 billion.
All of this is cause for celebration and immense pride. But now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Now is the time to forge ahead as a region and nation, and expand our dominance in the field of quantum.
Quantum has the potential to impact nearly every aspect of society from cybersecurity to chemical development to health care and finance. Given the decades of research expertise and talent pipeline in our area, quantum can be transformative and pay huge dividends for our economy.
The federal government and private investors are already pouring billions of dollars into institutions and companies working on quantum. Countries around the globe are clamoring for their pieces of the pie. Make no mistake: This is our generation’s space race. Who will be the first to unleash the power of quantum?
It should be the DMV area, and it can be, if we start putting all the pieces together now.
Science first: We must begin with that fundamental understanding of quantum science and investing in the research that continues to advance that knowledge. This will involve retaining and recruiting the brightest minds in the field to the faculty at the University of Maryland, and other universities in our area, who will also train our students to be future leaders in quantum.
Building an ecosystem: The next step is fostering an environment in which discoveries in the lab can grow into translations, applications or even products that will benefit society. This ecosystem must include industry and government partners, the business community, investors and entrepreneurs. We’re laying the groundwork with the recently launched Quantum Startup Foundry at the University of Maryland, designed to nurture quantum startups and help them access the unique resources housed within the university as well as at regional partners in the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance. We are also part of the recently established Potomac Quantum Innovation Center whose mission is to prepare for the future by bringing together the DMVs quantum stakeholders across borders and sectors to drive innovation, talent development, economic growth, and positive social impact.
Preparing the workforce: Once quantum truly takes off, the public and private sectors will need qualified employees to step into this emerging industry. Here again, our region is already poised to be a natural fit with its highly trained professional workforce in areas such as biotechnology and health care. In addition to providing continuing education and training for workers, we must partner with K-12 educational institutions to ensure the next generation can continue this quantum quest.
In many ways, I have been ringing the bell about a coming quantum revolution for decades — as have faculty members at the university and business leaders in the region. So, I ask that you embrace quantum. Be curious about it. We all have a stake in turning Maryland and the DMV into the global Capital of Quantum.
Darryll J. Pines (email@example.com) is president of the University of Maryland.