On Wednesday, September 7, the Baker-Polito Administration visited Northeastern University’s Innovation Campus in Burlington for the announcement of a new $3.5 million grant for the Experiential Quantum Advancement Laboratories (EQUAL), a nearly $10 million project to advance the emerging quantum sensing and related technology sectors in the state. The Northeastern-led project will establish new partnerships and leverage several ongoing ones with academic institutions and industry partners. The aim is to develop next-generation quantum technologies, boost training in quantum information science and engineering for students and workers, and establish greater partnerships among industry and government around quantum sensing and related technologies.
The new award, from the Commonwealth’s Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant program managed by the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), will advance quantum information sciences, a priority focus area for the R&D Fund. The targeted investment has strong potential for near-term economic impacts, including the creation of new jobs and revenue growth at industry partners, several of which attended Wednesday’s announcement.
“These investments will help create important partnerships between Massachusetts’ leading academic institutions and cutting-edge private-sector firms,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Northeastern University is a leader in innovation and this investment in quantum sensors will drive increased engagement between the Burlington campus and the leading quantum companies here in the Commonwealth that can benefit from this facility.”
“Northeastern is a strong partner when it comes to developing talent and educating hundreds of well-trained computer scientists, engineers and other STEM graduates who help power our tech and innovation ecosystem,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “Investments in quantum computing and quantum sensing will help meet a clear industry demand for both the innovative tools themselves and for the students who can graduate with the knowledge and research skills to have an impact in the R&D labs and manufacturing floors across our state.”
The grant will support the development of new ultrasensitive, room-temperature quantum sensors, facilities which will provide a vital and unique capability in the state. By focusing on sensors, which are less technically demanding than developing entire quantum computers, Northeastern is undertaking research that provides viable pathways to commercialization within the next two to five years.
The project will include a strong focus on workforce training, responding to the growing need for workers that are literate in quantum information sciences. The facility will boost Northeastern’s creation of a Ph.D. and master’s degree programs in Quantum Information Science and Engineering, plus the creation of a Quantum Information Science certificate and retraining programs.
“At Northeastern, our research enterprise focuses on solving societal problems related to health, security, and sustainability. The EQUAL project will transform sensing technologies in these three domains and markets by tapping into the power of quantum systems,” said David Luzzi, senior vice provost for research. “The MassTech Collaborative is a great partner in this effort to build upon our existing research collaborations and support the growth of a Quantum technology ecosystem in Massachusetts, and we thank MassTech for their earnest support.”
The new grant was announced by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who focused on the role of the Collaborative R&D program as an innovation driver for the Commonwealth. To date, the program has awarded more than $46 million to projects across the state, projects which have leveraged more than $65 million in matching contributions from outside partners. Quantum computing was identified as an emerging sector in the Administration’s Partnerships for Growth economic development plan in 2017 and was highlighted earlier this year through a nearly $1 million investment to UMass-Boston earlier this year.
“Northeastern has established a strong network of industry partnerships over the years, in sectors where Massachusetts has key strengths and which will benefit from advancements in quantum sensing,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “Today’s event showcased several of the companies that stand ready to utilize the EQUAL facilities right now – that’s exciting to see and highlights the importance of establishing these R&D facilities to keep Massachusetts the number one state for tech and innovation.”
“The Baker-Polito Administration have been great advocates and supporters of collaborative projects like EQUAL,” said Pat Larkin, Deputy Director of the MassTech Collaborative. “Their focus has consistently been on investments in sectors where Massachusetts can play a global leadership role and our team uncovered a solid proposal in EQUAL. Northeastern’s strong cross-disciplinary research, mixed with their strong industry connections, made this is a winning project for our program and one with great economic potential in the short-term.”
In addition to Northeastern’s research leaders, business executives from Park Systems and Scienta Omicron spoke at the event, highlighting the importance of the enhanced research capabilities and workforce pipeline benefits that will be driven by EQUAL.
“Park Systems is excited to open our applications lab at Northeastern University’s prestigious Innovation Campus co-located with the EQUAL Lab, industry partners and leading companies covering the latest research in quantum and other emerging technologies,” said Dr. Stefan Kaemmer, president of Park Systems Americas.
“Scienta Omicron is excited to partner with Northeastern University and the EQUAL lab,” said Bill Gerace, vice president, Sales and Service at Scienta Omicron “We are providing the world’s most advanced quantum materials innovation platform and are thrilled to partner with them to develop new artificial intelligence platforms that will enable rapid acceleration of quantum technologies in the state of Massachusetts.”
This past March, Northeastern University researchers announced a “breakthrough in quantum sensing” based on research into new ways to potentially create quantum bits, or ‘qubits’, the framework of quantum computers. According to the piece, the breakthrough has the potential to advance quantum sensing and “may help accelerate the pace of technological change,’ helping revolutionize computing and a host of other industries due to the greater amounts of data that can potentially be stored by quantum computers over traditional machines. The same technology is also expected to revolutionize quantum sensing, with a far shorter runway towards commercialization.
“We are extremely grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration and MassTech for helping establish the EQUAL lab with this generous grant,” said Northeastern Associate Professor Swastik Kar and University Distinguished Professor Arun Bansil, co-directors of the EQUAL lab. “EQUAL will dramatically accelerate our ability to develop new quantum sensing and related technologies from concept to commercialization, all within the Commonwealth, and provide a huge boost to our rapidly growing quantum research, education and workforce development initiatives.”
This is the third Collaborative R&D grant awarded directly to Northeastern, following the April 2016 announcement of $3 million to establish the Advanced Nanomanufacturing Cluster for Smart Sensors and Materials, housed at the Kostas Research Institute on the Burlington campus, and $2.2 million for the AI Jumpstart program announced in February 2020.
Organizations interested in applying to the Collaborative R&D Matching Grant learn more at https://masstech.org/collaborative-research-matching-grant-program-solicitation.