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UChicago, Tohoku University announce new ‘quantum alliance’


A scientist adjusts optics for experiments in the laboratory of David Awschalom at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. @ Jean Lachat

Japan’s Tohoku University and the University of Chicago are launching a collaboration to fuel quantum research and grow the international quantum workforce. The newly formed Chicago-Tohoku Quantum Alliance will focus on research in quantum sensing, quantum communication, and new materials development, and work to promote student exchange, industry partnerships and start-ups.


The agreement is the most recent signal of the strengthening relationship between Japan and Chicago in the field of quantum science. Last month, at the 2023 G7 Summit in Japan, UChicago, Tokyo University, IBM and Google announced partnerships to advance workforce development and quantum computing. While those announcements involved two American companies, IBM and Google, the Chicago-Tohoku Quantum Alliance will help build bridges with Japanese companies, including Toshiba, and establish stronger industry ties with academia and government.


The universities bring complementary strengths, making the partnership one of global importance. UChicago faculty are among the world’s leaders in fundamental quantum science research. The university runs one of the largest quantum communications networks in the U.S., a 124-mile network that uses technology provided by Toshiba. It leads one of the nation’s ten national quantum research centers, QuBBE; serves as a partner in two others, Q-NEXT and HQAN; and is affliated with a fourth, SQMS. It is also home to the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, which, with a core focus on quantum, continues to push the boundaries of the field.


Tohoku University faculty are leaders in materials science and microelectronics. The university serves as one of Japan’s ten quantum technology innovation hubs. It has Japan’s only complete process line for 300mm wafers, one of the nation’s largest clean rooms, and an important nanofabrication facility.

A researcher holds a low-power spintronics semiconductor prototyped at the Center for Innovative Integrated Electronic Systems at Tohoku University in Japan. @ CIES, Tohoku University

UChicago-based Duality, the first accelerator program in the U.S. exclusively focused on supporting innovative quantum startups, is expected to play a notable role and to strengthen recruitment in Japan. Meanwhile, a similar accelerator program, based on Duality, is in development at Tohoku University.


“This alliance is part of our ongoing work to bring together scientists from around the world to unlock the full potential of quantum information science,” said Paul Alivisatos, president of the University of Chicago. “As we move forward, crossing disciplines and geographic boundaries will be critical to our ability to fuel discovery and advance innovation at the highest levels.”


“Quantum technology and classical technology must be seamlessly integrated for the technology to be useful to society,” said Hideo Ohno, president of Tohoku University. “By combining Tohoku University’s expertise in materials science, characterization, and nanofabrication with the University of Chicago’s strength in quantum science, we are poised to make significant advances in this field. We are eagerly looking forward to advancing quantum technology through student and faculty exchanges and collaborative research.”


The agreement brings together academia, industry and government partners in a way that is inspired in part by the approach of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, an intellectual hub based at UChicago that launched in 2017 to advance research in the field, train the future quantum workforce, and drive the local and national quantum economy. Duality is led by UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Chicago Quantum Exchange, along with founding partners the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Argonne National Laboratory, and P33.


“Strengthening industry partnerships and incubating new quantum companies are key to both this alliance and our overall approach,” said David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and Physics at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and founding director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. “Our aim is to build relationships with companies in Japan and create opportunities for students in both countries to collaborate on research projects across industry, academia, and government.”


UChicago and Tohoku University have been collaborating in the field of spintronics, which includes quantum science and engineering, since 2014. These collaborations have already achieved results in solid-state spin defects for quantum engineering. The first workshop of this latest partnership will be organized in October.

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