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ASU launches new quantum research collaborative | ASU News – ASU News Now

Arizona State University has launched the Quantum Collaborative, a major 21st century initiative poised to profoundly impact society and the American economy with new discoveries and applications in advanced quantum technology.
The promise of quantum technology has kicked off an international contest the likes of which have not been seen since the space race, and ASU is joining scores of nations, companies and universities striving to realize its potential. A state-funded and globally-oriented initiative, the Quantum Collaborative aims to promote understanding of this important technology and forge partnerships to advance it. 
“A key objective for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise is to fundamentally change how the world solves problems,” says Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “Quantum technology holds a unique promise to accomplish this, and I am thrilled to see what we can accomplish with our partners in the Quantum Collaborative.”
The Quantum Collaborative is a broad endeavor consisting of a community of companies, academic institutions, startups and initiatives cooperating across several strategic areas to deliver incremental advances across the emerging quantum technology landscape, as well as develop training and education for the future quantum workforce. 
The Quantum Collaborative’s founding industry partners include:
Along with industry partnerships, the Quantum Collaborative is forging connections with leading academic institutions. Founding academic partners include:
ASU will also operate as a hub within the IBM Quantum Network, a global community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national labs with cloud access to IBM’s premium quantum computers, experts and resources. Organizations can join ASU’s hub as members to draw on IBM’s quantum technology and resources to advance quantum computing research.
The first members to join ASU’s IBM Quantum Hub are Purdue University and Virginia Tech.
“We’re excited to welcome ASU into the IBM Quantum Network,” says Aparna Prabhakar, vice president, partner ecosystem, IBM Quantum. “They’re already building a diverse academic and industry ecosystem, with an academic and workforce program focused on how quantum computing can be applied to key demonstrations of the technology.”
In addition to assembling this collection of universities and companies to cooperate on quantum technology initiatives, the Quantum Collaborative recently joined the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, or QED-C, and is developing relationships with prospective international partners. 
In the emerging field of quantum technology, one area already transforming society is quantum computing.
Essentially, quantum computing is a marriage between computing and quantum theory — a branch of physics that focuses on the behavior of atoms and the subatomic particles within them.
Traditional computers — be it your laptop, cell phone or high-performance supercomputers — operate using binary digits, or bits. Bits have only two possible values, one or zero. They make up binary code, which your computer reads to carry out its tasks.
Conversely, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, to process information. Qubits can exist not only as a one or a zero, but also as both a one and a zero simultaneously. Together with other quantum mechanical features, this behavior allows quantum computers to run certain computations much faster than any classical computer.
Quantum computing is just one aspect of a field known more formally as Quantum Information Science and Technology, or QIST, which stands to revolutionize many areas of industry such as pharmaceutical development, finance, telecommunications, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
“There are few organizations engaging across all QIST areas simultaneously, because each individual area is advancing so quickly and focused on individual goals,” says Sean Dudley, assistant vice president and chief research information officer of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. Dudley oversees the Quantum Collaborative with support from internal and external advisory boards.
“We’ve found that groups working in specific areas of QIST struggle to keep tabs on advancements across other areas, even when co-dependencies are in the mix,” Dudley says. “For example, quantum sensing is already reaching the market. It can deliver tremendous advancements in areas such as human health or climate science and can also be integrated with both quantum computing and networking, which are different yet complementary technologies, to bring further advancements.” 
The Quantum Collaborative solves for this silo effect by aligning research and development efforts where appropriate to create joint initiatives and mechanisms for knowledge exchange. In addition, by creating certifications, upskilling opportunities and modified degree programs, the collaborative aims to develop a robust talent pipeline for a quantum-enabled economy.
While the potential of quantum technology remains unrealized, the field has already attracted worldwide talent and leading researchers to advance it. Christian Arenz believes that the true impact of quantum technology is very hard to foresee. Arenz is an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and serves on the ASU faculty advisory board for the Quantum Collaborative.
He imagines quantum computers may initially fulfill a role of today’s supercomputers — tackling large scale problems beyond the scope of standard computing, such as simulating complex systems.
“As a physicist, I care about actually being able to simulate complex systems, but who cares about that besides physicists, right?” he asks. “But, you can often map the simulation of complex systems to real-life problems.”
Simulation could pave the way for stronger and more resilient materials, more effective pharmaceuticals, as well as better predictive modeling of financial market and weather patterns. A quantum computer could also theoretically reveal how pathogens spread through the air.
At a global level, the race for quantum supremacy is a serious competition with many nations racing to advance QIST. This competition has become more intense partly due to quantum’s anticipated disruption of data privacy and encryption.
Today’s encryption relies on algorithmically generated keys that encode data shared between parties. These encryption algorithms are based on large prime numbers. While classical computers can very easily multiply two large prime numbers, breaking the result back down into prime numbers is much more difficult.
“Take 15 — you can easily factor that into primes. Three times five is 15,” Arenz says. “That becomes much harder when dealing with very large numbers, and most encryption protocols are based exactly on the fact that a classic computer cannot efficiently factor a large number into prime numbers.”
This encryption method leaves hackers two options to decipher secure information: either intercept a key or use powerful computers to predict the key. The latter isn’t currently feasible, but the massive jump in computing power promised by quantum computers is expected to deliver rapid and easy decryption.
This has led to a “harvest now, decrypt later” mindset in which bad actors capture troves of data, anticipating the ability to decrypt it later. It’s a bit like a thief stealing a near-uncrackable safe full of valuables with the assumption that they’ll eventually learn how to open it.
In recognition of this threat, governments and intelligence agencies around the world are working quickly to achieve post-quantum cryptography to safeguard data from powerful quantum computers. In 2016, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology launched a global effort to standardize post-quantum cryptography protocols to secure data against quantum computers and maintain functionality with existing systems and networks. NIST announced the first four standards in July 2022, and additional standards are currently under review.
Beyond encryption, there is broad federal interest in quantum technology. In 2018, the U.S. founded the National Quantum Initiative to propel the United States’ strategic advancement in quantum technology overall. New funding programs, established by the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, bolster quantum research and development. The recently passed CHIPS and Science Act delivers hundreds of millions in additional funding for QIST.  
“This is a national competition, for a global advantage. We can’t afford to have siloed efforts throughout the country and our partner nations. The winner of the quantum race will gain an 80-year advantage — the outcomes are going to be that transformative,” Dudley says.
In addition to fundamental research and technology development, another key aim of the Quantum Collaborative is workforce and education program development, a goal that ASU and other academic partners are well-positioned to achieve. 
With the largest engineering school in the nation, ASU is also mobilizing significant resources to address a widespread need for quantum workforce development across many skill areas such as engineering, chemistry, materials science, human performance, communications and manufacturing. 
“Academic and workforce program development is a federal interest and is as yet a relatively unmet call to action from the National Quantum Initiative,” Dudley says.
For Arenz, his primary goal is to introduce students of all disciplines to paradigms in quantum technology. Because, he says, fundamentally we need people who can build and improve these solutions. Then and only then can we develop a workforce around this new technology.
“More or less, everyone can take a software class and code a little bit on their laptop right at home,” he says. “Quantum computing is not like that at this point. The goal is to get there, but at this point, we need to understand how to scale the quantum computer up, how to make it better.” 
Arenz bases this on his experience teaching a quantum computing course. His students come from several disciplines, each looking at problems very differently.
“It’s not just physics. It’s engineering, it’s computer science, it’s math — and then if you then think about applications, simulating chemistry — well, you need chemists. For something like optimization, you need engineers,” he says.
To fully realize the potential of quantum technology, everyone from executive leaders and specialized technicians to entry-level engineers and researchers far outside computing and physics will need education tailored to their needs and interests. One goal of the Quantum Collaborative is to demonstrate that quantum technology is a skill area within reach that has potential to create economic mobility for many people.
“When I was growing up in a small manufacturing town in Wisconsin, people were excited about the opportunity offered by a radiology certification. It was two years of learning and then you could make great money without having to follow the previous generation into a factory,” Dudley says. “While the manufacturing industry certainly took great care of many families in the Midwest, radiology brought hope as something that might lift you up and out of a limited professional destiny. We at ASU, with our many partners, will deliver what the National Quantum Initiative calls for by working within and outside STEM-engaged populations to bring a new set of professional opportunities to families across all communities.”
The Quantum Collaborative is funded by the Arizona Board of Regents through an addition to Arizona’s Technology Research Initiative Fund. This funding also supports ASU’s enrollment in the Quantum Economic Development Consortium. 
TRIF investment has enabled hands-on training for tens of thousands of students across Arizona’s universities, thousands of scientific discoveries and patented technologies, and hundreds of new start-up companies. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.
Top photo illustration by Shireen Dooling
Assistant director of content strategy , Knowledge Enterprise
Most species adapt through genetic evolution. But humans, uniquely, also adapt through culture — we come up with good ideas, share them with each other, and build on the discoveries of others. Culture is central to the global success of our species, but why did it evolve in the first place?ASU researcher Thomas J. H. Morgan and colleagues believe that one clue to why culture developed comes from…
Most species adapt through genetic evolution. But humans, uniquely, also adapt through culture — we come up with good ideas, share them with each other, and build on the discoveries of others. Culture is central to the global success of our species, but why did it evolve in the first place?
ASU researcher Thomas J. H. Morgan and colleagues believe that one clue to why culture developed comes from our ancestors’ adaptation to environmental changes. They published the result of a set of experiments to investigate this hypothesis in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B this week. wood people connected by lines Download Full Image
From about two million to 10,000 years ago, a period covering much of human evolution, the global climate was extremely unstable. These unpredictable conditions are thought to be a key driver in human evolution. Genetic evolutionary changes would not have occurred quickly enough for our ancestors to adapt. Culture, however, is faster than genetic change, leading to the evolution of culture as a means to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances.
Questions about the hows and whys of culture and evolution are often addressed through purely mathematical simulations. However, simulating something as complex as the human mind is a challenge. To get around this, the researchers invited human participants to take part directly in a simulation by inhabiting a simulated online world and making decisions for simulated human ancestors. In this way, real human psychology was fed directly into the evolutionary simulation. The researchers’ goal was to see whether real human decision-making produces a culture that can respond to a changing climate and so test the hypothesis that culture itself evolved to keep up.
The researchers recruited 4,800 people to take part. Each participant was put in a group of 40 people and then challenged to figure out what to do in their virtual world. Participants were even given simulated genes that controlled whether they could learn from others or not, and successful participants “reproduced.” Newly recruited participants inherited their simulated genes from successful participants.
Depending on their simulated genes, participants could try to figure the world out on their own or learn from the decisions of the previous participants. But every so often, the virtual world changed, rendering old information from previous participants out of date. As the simulation progressed, the researchers monitored how well the group performed.
The researchers explored different ways people could learn from each other across different simulations by sharing information about what a wider range of people thought or letting them make independent decisions if they were unhappy with this shared information. Though these strategies helped participants succeed, they still didn’t prevent severe issues when the environment changed.
“Some participants engaged carefully and critically with their group’s culture, and some were even contrary mavericks who consistently did the opposite of what others were doing. But most people just went along with the majority, drawing on the accumulated expertise of past generations to make quick and effective decisions,” said Morgan, a research scientist with the Institute of Human Origins and associate professor with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
The general result pattern was that while the “world” was stable, the groups evolved to focus on cultural learning. But when the environment changed, cultural transmission of information could not keep up, and so groups evolved to return to individual learning.
The results hint that while there are some signs of people using culture to learn from each other to adapt and solve the problem of climate change in their simulated world, it trades off against the need to faithfully learn valuable information from previous generations. And sometimes, in order to adopt to new circumstances, participants needed to ignore some past information. However, ignoring information could lead to missing out on valuable insights from the past.  
“Some participants verified the accuracy of information they learn from others or seek out up-and-coming traits,” Morgan said. “However, these people are in the minority, and most people simply go along with the group. The tendency to conform causes severe problems when local conditions change, as many people keep doing things that are no longer a good idea, which we call cultural inertia.”
Nonetheless, there are good reasons to conform: Culture contains many good ideas, and being overly skeptical means that participants miss out and end up ignoring the accumulated experience from past generations. Thus, culture finds itself in a trade-off: The flexibility required to track rapid change works against the fidelity required to take advantage of cultural knowledge.
“Everything humans have done since the dawn of agriculture has happened in a 10,000-year blip of remarkable climactic stability. These results highlight the precariousness of humanity’s position should instability return. Culture has enabled us to do amazing things, but it’s not clear that it could handle the kind of instability that was common up to just a few thousand years ago,” Morgan said.
“For the human past, this means culture didn’t just evolve as a means of rapid adaptation, but part of its benefit also comes from the valuable ideas that can be passed down and would be unlikely to be discovered anew each generation. For the human future, this shows there are limitations to the speed with which we can adapt to new conditions, such as climate change, and we should plan accordingly.” 
Research article: The experimental evolution of human culture: flexibility, fidelity and environmental instability by Thomas J. H. Morgan, Jordan W. Suchow, Thomas L. Griffiths, can be accessed online at https://doi.org/10.1098/scpb.2022.1614.
Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins
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