Inside the Quantum Research Institute

Mack Kira, co-director of the Quantum Research Institute with Steven Cundiff, is taking Michigan’s quantum activities to the next level.
Mack Kira working at a white board
Prof. Mackillo Kira

Michigan recently announced the establishment of the Quantum Research Institute, which comes with a $55M investment “to address global quantum challenges and prepare a new generation of researchers to drive groundbreaking discoveries.”

The Institute is a formal recognition of the remarkable achievements in quantum science and technology that have been happening across the Michigan campus for decades. And it comes at a time when capitalizing on those accomplishments will take creativity, teamwork, and a convergence of interdisciplinary approaches to achieve their future potential.

“The Institute provides structure where new ideas can quickly evolve,” said Mackillo Kira, co-director of the Institute with Steven Cundiff. “Michigan should be who people think of when it comes to quantum photonic information technology. We have the people, we have the expertise, and now we have the organizational infrastructure with the Quantum Research Institute.” 

Built on Teamwork

The Quantum Research Institute is the culmination of many years of planning by its inaugural co-founders. Kira, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, arrived at Michigan Engineering in 2016, and saw as one of his top priorities bringing together the faculty involved in quantum research. He had already collaborated on research with Steven Cundiff, the Harrison M. Randall Collegiate Professor of Physics (and a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science); and the two of them went to work.

Within a couple years, they formed the Michigan Quantum Science Working Group. The Group’s 2019 workshop attracted more than 175 individuals from 12 departments across the university, as well as representatives of startup companies and large corporations.

In 2021, Kira and Cundiff were leaders in establishing the Midwest Quantum Collaboratory. This partnership with Michigan State University and Purdue University facilitated further collaborations in the team sport known as quantum science and technology.

The newly-established Quantum Research Institute adds critical funds and infrastructure to support future breakthroughs in the field – and there will be many.

Quantum Research

Quantum research is a broad field that can’t be contained in one department, or even one institution. But a university center or institute should have an identifiable core competency, says Kira. For Michigan, that core expertise is quantum-light information technology. 

Michigan’s strengths and advancements in quantum science over the past several decades are based on a unique research loop that connects many-body quantum theory, quantum material synthesis, and quantum experiments to the following facets of quantum-light information technology:

  • Leading organic, nitride, and ferroelectric quantum materials and qubits for device-level integration of sources, detectors, and integrated photonics.
  • Atomic and semiconductor quantum optics for integrated, chip-scale quantum photonics, quantum sensing, and quantum internet.
  • Novel ultrafast spectroscopies and lightwave electronics for qubit-level sensitivity and extreme speeds to beat losses even at room temperature.

Despite all that’s been done in the past, we’re still in the infancy of quantum. 

“If we compare quantum to the development of computing, we’re still in the vacuum tube era,” says Kira. “The next big thing will be to convert these vacuum tubes into real technology.”

And much of that will have to do with the integration of classical and quantum components in what Kira calls “quantum plug and play.” 

“If you have artificial-intelligence tasks computed in an ordinary cloud computer, it might consume a huge amount of energy,” explains Kira. “But if you apply a quantum component to the most critical parts, it might be able to reduce the energy load and also speed up the processing. But first you have to figure out how to combine a quantum component with a classical component. And for that, you need expertise in materials, light, and sensing. We have a very strong team on these topics.”

Quantum Education

Faculty in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) have already been creating new courses at the undergraduate level to prepare students for the so-called second quantum revolution. 

“We have to train the new generation of engineers to speak the language of quantum technologies, and then how to utilize that technology in systems that they’re trying to build themselves,” said Alex Burgers, who recently developed one of these new undergraduate courses.

To do this, ECE now has a suite of courses beginning with a new course at the sophomore level with virtually no barrier to entry in order to attract as diverse a population of students as possible. The new track of courses is focused on quantum information science and engineering, and includes new junior and senior level courses along with the established course, Introduction to Quantum Nanotechnology. The latter course was first taught by Duncan Steel, who came out with a textbook of the same name in 2021.

Students who want to further their knowledge in quantum technology have several courses to choose from at the graduate level, including Kira’s relatively new course, Quantum Optoelectronics. Kira uses his own textbook, Semiconductor Quantum Optics, in the course. 

“Our graduates will learn to revolutionize quantum technology by developing million times faster computers, single-molecule sensors, quantum internet, and much more,” said Kira.

Next Steps

Kira and Cundiff are actively assembling a team of about 20 faculty who will help determine how the Institute operates – ensuring that a collaborative approach will be baked into the Institute from the very beginning. 

They are also planning a major kickoff event in the Fall of 2023 in collaboration with U-M leadership. 

Industry, from startup companies to multinational corporations, will be key members of the Quantum Research Institute.

“We want to take quantum discoveries from the lab to the marketplace, and be sensitive to the future needs of industry,” says Kira, “And that means forming strong partnerships.”

Locally that includes the semiconductor, automotive, and chemical industries, as well as several local companies specializing in light and spectroscopy.

“That way,” says Kira, “we’ll have a network of industrial partners that can quickly benefit from the new discoveries that will come out of the Quantum Research Institute.”

June 12, 2023 : Michigan Daily

U-M to pioneer inter-disciplinary research institute with $55 million investment in Quantum research

Co-chair Mack Kira says that what's unique about quantum is that "it's so interdisciplinary, so you have to have multiple stakeholders. You need physicists, engineers, computer scientists, chemists, mathematicians; all of them have to come together to look at the quantum from different points of view and bring something together.”