UChicago Joins UIUC, IL Labs in Push to Make Chicago a Leader in Quantum Tech

The University’s expanding reach in quantum technology research parallels a similar recent push in its expansion of the computer science department.

By Jason Lalljee

UChicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) will collaborate with the Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FermiLab) in an effort to establish Chicago as a national epicenter of quantum technology research, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced at the Polsky Center this Tuesday.

“Five years, 10 years from now, people will look back at this day as a milestone that changed the direction of not only the city, not only the state, not only the country, but the prospects of the greater South Side of the city of Chicago, and the prospects of the world,” Emanuel said at the press conference, flanked by administrators from both UChicago and UIUC, including University President Robert Zimmer. 

The universities are slated to announce several joint projects, including research in areas such as materials and computing, as well as civic engagement collaborations intended to benefit South Side communities. 

Administrators announced that UIUC would join the University and the two Illinois laboratories in their “Chicago Quantum Exchange,” which was launched last year at the Institute for Molecular Engineering. Between the four institutions, the hub will house more than 100 engineers and scientists.

“Harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics holds great promise for a wide range of technologies,” Zimmer said. “The Chicago Quantum Exchange brings research universities and national laboratories together in an innovative way, making Chicago a unique and powerful hub for the development of critical new technologies.” 

The University’s expanding reach in quantum technology research parallels a similar recent push in its expansion of the computer science department. 

As Zimmer remarked at the opening of newly renovated John Crerar Library last week—which now houses the Department of Computer Science and the Center for Data and Applied Computing—“this building is really one piece of what we intend to be a large sequence of investments in computer science, a large expansion of our computer science department itself, a large expansion of things connected to computer science around the University, connected to data science.” 

Quantum technology is a relatively new field in physics and engineering. Its applications include secure communications, computing, and sensor technology. The field’s commercial possibilities have largely only been broached during the past decade, with companies such as IBM, Google, and NASA experimenting with quantum computer models. 

Emanuel anticipates the move triggering a boon to the city, likening it to the decision to incorporate the O’Hare International Airport into the city of Chicago. Referencing various STEM developments at Chicago universities—such as the University of Illinois at Chicago’s upcoming science and engineering school, projected to enroll 2,000 students—Emanuel views the quantum technology collaboration as just the “most recent building [block] of a great economy.” 

“When you put all that together, I think this is a moment in Chicago’s history,” he said.