Anadmist/Getty Images

National Science Foundation plans $29M for quantum sensing research

The National Science Foundation is making a $29 million investment to help spur a new iteration of quantum sensing technologies.

Announced Tuesday, the funding will go to 18 research teams based out of U.S. universities, with each team awarded around $1 million to $2 million over four years. 

Quantum sensing promises the advanced and precise measurement of changes in the temperatures, movement, direction, and other characteristics of subatomic particles. 

Focus areas for the awardees include constructing a quantum-enhanced telescope that runs on entangled photons, developing portable atomic clocks to better measure shifts in the Earth’s gravitational field at different altitudes, and investigating new techniques for visualizing inside live cells to pursue advanced medical treatments. 

“For decades, scientific exploration at the quantum scale has yielded surprising discoveries about how our universe works — and tantalizing possibilities for quantum-enabled technologies,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a press release. “We are now taking the next step in quantum research through these projects and others, which combine fundamental research with potential applications that can positively impact our lives, our economic prosperity and our competitiveness as a nation.”

Such robust public investment is sorely needed, according to private-sector leaders. Allison Schwartz, the global government relations and public affairs leader for D-Wave, a computing company that uses quantum annealing processes for problem solving, said that the federal funding should go to more near-term quantum sciences applications. 

“There is almost no or little focus on anything about using the technology in the near term,” Schwartz told Nextgov/FCW, a Defense One sister publication. 

Schwartz concedes that while basic research in emerging sciences and technologies like QIST is critically important, the U.S. needs to temper these efforts with a focus on applications to keep up with other countries' efforts. 

These fundamental research programs abound in the text of the National Quantum Initiative Act, which will need congressional reauthorization this September. Schwartz said that much has changed in the quantum technology landscape in the five years since the bill was signed into law, and renewed ratification should include an “expanded focus of near-term uses of the technology.”