Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



Glenn A. Fox

Glenn A. Fox

Associate Director for Physical and Life Sciences

From Bits to Qubits: Pursuing the Quantum Frontier

QUANTUM computing has been characterized as the next frontier in high-performance computing (HPC) ever since the first models were published in the 1980s. Packaging data in qubits instead of the bits of classical computing, quantum computing uses the principles of quantum physics to encode data in multiple states at once, thus opening the door to exponential increases in computing power. The technology changes how we view computational architectures, and the field is in a critical phase of moving from theory into experimentation. The feature article, Livermore Leaps into Quantum Computing, is S&TR’s first cover story on quantum computing.

Lawrence Livermore is pursuing quantum computing and related technologies for myriad reasons. Most importantly, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) relies on scientific computing—particularly the large multiphysics codes that model material behavior and fluid dynamics—as a substitute for nuclear testing. As an NNSA national security laboratory, Livermore must continually advance computing technologies to achieve more accurate simulations with faster processors.

The SSP mission presents computational challenges in calculating partial differential equations, equations of state (such as the motion of atoms under extreme conditions), and predictions of physical and chemical processes (such as energy transport and nuclear reaction rates). The catch is that Moore’s Law, which holds that classical computer performance doubles every 18 to 24 months, seems to be expiring: As power requirements increase with finer scale simulations, eventually classical computers will be unable to provide significant performance improvements. Quantum computers, however, are expected to perform such calculations faster, with higher fidelity and lower power consumption. Given trends in academia and industry, we may start to realize the potential of quantum computing in solving the above problems in the near future.

At the Laboratory, we are tackling quantum computing on several fronts, including hardware design, programming paradigms, and superconductive applications. Livermore has a history of driving science and technology forward through bold projects—and quantum computing is no exception. Indeed, we bring the best qualities of the Laboratory to bear on this growing field by developing unique technological capabilities and engaging multidisciplinary teams in physics, engineering, computer science, materials science, and more.

This work also creates mission-motivated opportunities across the programs. For example, the extremely low-energy environment necessary to sustain quantum coherence has applications in microwave detection, remote sensing, and other areas dependent on ultrahigh resolution. We can learn more about material properties in low-energy regimes, driving the development of novel materials. We can gain new physical insights by simulating quantum dynamics and augmenting classical models. We see possibilities for integration with HPC systems and collaborations with other institutions on next-generation computing platforms. Our research partners could benefit greatly from our quantum computing systems as direct end users.

Quantum computing and related quantum technologies represent an exciting research area for the Laboratory, one that will capture the imagination and harness the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers for years to come. This work is an opportunity for Livermore researchers to contribute on multiple fronts as we have done so often before—by advancing fundamental science and translating that science into practical solutions for our programs and missions. The future holds great promise, as in all fields of Laboratory involvement.