UO researcher influences federal quantum physics legislation

This article first appeared in Around the O on July 4.

A call to action by a UO professor has helped catalyze bipartisan legislation recently introduced in Washington, D.C.

Physics professor Michael Raymer and University of Maryland physicist Christopher Monroe authored proposals for a National Quantum Initiative that is the basis for federal legislation introduced this week. The National Quantum Initiative Act will establish a comprehensive national program to accelerate research and technology development in this emerging area.

Its goals are to advance the country’s economy and national security by securing the United States’ position as the global leader in quantum information science.

“It’s vital for the U.S. to move into a national quantum science and technology program with a unified vision and approach, with the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Department of Energy working collaboratively as equal partners under the leadership of a national coordinating committee,” Raymer said.

The legislation calls for an investment up to $1.27 billion over five years. It would create a number of focused research and education centers around the country to advance quantum information science and technology and help create a workforce in this new area, Raymer said.

The goal of quantum information research is to use the physical laws that apply to elementary particles of nature to revolutionize how information is stored, processed, communicated and retrieved. If successful, it could produce computers that store vastly larger amounts of data and carry out more complex calculations than today’s semiconductor-chip-based computers. And quantum computers would be impossible to hack, Raymer said.

Quantum information science is an area of growing research expertise at the UO. In addition to Raymer, the university’s quantum information researchers include 2012 Nobel laureate David Wineland, who recently joined the Department of Physics as a Philip H. Knight Distinguished Research Chair; Brian Smith, newly recruited from the University of Oxford and part of the U.K.’s quantum initiative; Hailin Wang, who holds the Alec and Kay Keith Chair in Physics; and Steven van Enk, director of the Oregon Center for Optical, Molecular and Quantum Science.

The House bill, H.R. 6227, was introduced June 26 and immediately referred to the House Science Committee for mark-up the next day. The bill advanced with unanimous bipartisan support.    

On the Senate side, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation also introduced National Quantum Initiative legislation. The Senate is expected to consider the legislation sometime later this summer.

Raymer noted that the National Photonics Initiative has led the advocacy effort for the National Quantum Initiative. The National Photonics Initiative is a collaborative alliance among industry and academia and raises awareness of the impact of photonics — the application of light — on the economy and on everyday life.

This isn’t the first time Raymer’s work has been recognized by a member of Congress. In October 2017 U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, recognized Raymer’s work on the National Quantum Initiative during a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

In addition, in February Raymer hosted a visit by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, another Oregon Democrat and UO alumnus, to share groundbreaking photonics and quantum physics research being done by UO faculty members.