Federal Initiatives in Quantum Information Science Growing

IBM 50-qubit quantum computer

The federal government is making a big push in quantum information science or QIS research across all major research agencies.

Quantum technologies could transform key industries and launch future industries, but fundamental research roadblocks remain with most experts predicting it will take 5-10 years at least before the U.S. produces a functional quantum computer. At the moment, QIS technologies are remain experimental and will need substantial advances in hardware and software to unlock their potential. 

New federal QIS research investments were kickstarted by Congress in 2018 with the National Quantum Initiative Act. The legislation established a quantum consortia led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes by the National Science Foundation; National Quantum Information Science Research Centers by the Department of Energy; and greater interagency coordination of federal QIS research and development.

QIS presents major implications for both U.S. national and homeland security. Concerns have been raised about the potential for a quantum computer being able to break public-key cryptography — the bedrock of cybersecurity for critical infrastructure, national security systems and everyday digital devices. President Biden recently issued National Security Memorandum 10 outlining the potential threats and opportunities posed by QIS advancements. The memorandum states: “a quantum computer of sufficient size and sophistication — also known as a cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) — will be capable of breaking much of the public-key cryptography used on digital systems across the United States and around the world,” The memorandum outlines specific actions for agencies to take as the United States begins the multi-year process of migrating vulnerable computer systems to quantum-resistant cryptography, stating: “while the full range of applications of quantum computers is still unknown, it is nevertheless clear that America’s continued technological and scientific leadership will depend, at least in part, on the nation’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage in quantum computing and QIS.” 

Recognizing the potential and the threats stemming from QIS, Congress has also increased investments in QIS for national security. Across the Department of Defense, budget requests for quantum-related programs increased 37 percent between fiscal years 2020 and 2022. Recently the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., was named the Quantum Information Science Research Center for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force. AFRL also received an additional $8 million to conduct research and development in QIS at the adjacent Innovare Advancement Center which allows for research collaborations with academic and industry partners in an unclassified laboratory setting.

4th Annual International Quantum Information Science Workshop

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFoSR) is sponsoring a three-day workshop on advances in quantum information science (QIS). The workshop will be held at the Innovare Advancement Center in Rome, New York adjacent to the AFRL Information Directorate (Rome Laboratory). The event is at the unclassified level and registration is open to all. To register click here

NSF Regional Innovation Engines Program: Background Webinars, Roadshows, Q&A

The Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program is a new initiative of the U.S. National Science Foundation. The goal of NSF Engines is to catalyze innovation ecosystems across the United States to advance critical technologies, address societal challenges, nurture diverse talent, and promote economic growth and job creation. With the potential for each Engine to receive up to $160 million for up to 10+ years, the program supports the development of regional coalitions, spanning academia, industry, nonprofits, government, civil society, and communities of practice, to engage in use-inspired research, translation of research results to society, and workforce development. The NSF Engines seeks to harness the Nation’s geography of innovation, unleashing a new era of innovation and competitiveness for the U.S. For more detail see: https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/regional-innovation-engines

The NSF has sponsored several webinars and regional briefings for potential stakeholders and interested proposers. These information sessions are found on the NSF Technology, Innovation & Partnerships (TIP) YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGhBP1C7iCOnQhfxpyk4ZY9-qoqI4dar_

Symposium: Federal Networking and Information Technology R&D Program

Thirty years ago, Congress sought to advance federal investments in high performance computing HPC and communications. The result was the HPC Act of 1991 which has expanded in scope and evolved over the years into the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) Program. Under the NITRD program, overall federal IT R&D investment have grown from less than $5 million in 1991 to nearly $7.8 billion requested for FY2022.

The 1991 legislation established a mechanism to coordinate and plan R&D efforts among federal agencies and sectors. This helped extend and expand the federal investments in networking and information technology (NIT) and maintain America’s world leadership in these areas. Through the NITRD process, Federal agencies exchange information; collaborate on research activities such as testbeds, workshops, strategic planning, and cooperative solicitations; and focus their R&D resources on common goals of making new discoveries and/or developing new technology solutions to address our Nation’s most critical priorities. This includes advanced networking technologies (including wireless), artificial intelligence, big data, cybersecurity, health IT, information integrity, networked physical systems, privacy protection, robotics, and software.

To mark the achievements of NITRD, a symposium will be held on May 25, 2022 beginning at 9:00 a.m. Virtual attendance is available via livestream. Register here

Webinar: The Current State of the U.S. Science and Engineering Enterprise

What is the current state of science and engineering in the United States? How healthy is the U.S. STEM labor force? What is the level of U.S. investment in R&D across various sectors? How does the U.S. compare internationally in science and technology (S&T)? These are the types of questions addressed by the biennial report produced by the National Science Board — United States Science and Engineering Indicators — through the presentation of key quantitative measures of R&D, STEM education and workforce, and economic competitiveness.

On April 20, 2022 the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will convene a webinar to discuss the 2022 Indicators report, which was released in January. The webinar will feature representatives of the NSB and the National Science Foundation who will discuss the report’s findings in relation to STEM education at all levels; the STEM workforce; U.S. and international research and development performance; U.S. competitiveness in high-technology industries; and invention, knowledge transfer, and innovation. The session will also include comments from Dr. France Córdova, former NSF Director and President of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, to discuss the Indicators data within the context of philanthropic contributions to science.

The session is free and open to the public but registration is required. To register click here.

New Survey:  Semiconductor Market Hampered by Demand/Supply Mismatch, Lack of Manufacturing Capacity

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) released the results of a request for information (RFI) seeking data on the state of the semiconductor supply chain.

The DoC confirmed that there is a significant, persistent mismatch in supply and demand for chips, and survey respondents did not see the problem going away in the next six months. Median demand for the chips highlighted by the buyers who responded to the RFI was as much as 17% higher in 2021 than in 2019, and buyers aren’t seeing commensurate increases in the supply they receive.

The main bottleneck identified is the need for additional manufacturing or fab capacity. In addition, companies identified material and assembly, test, and packaging capacity as bottlenecks.

The RFI received more than 150 responses, including from nearly every major semiconductor producer and from companies in multiple consuming industries.

Other findings include:

  • The median inventory of semiconductor products highlighted by buyers has fallen from 40 days in 2019 to less than 5 days in 2021 (see Figure 2). These inventories are even smaller in key industries.
  • The RFI allowed us to pinpoint specific nodes where the supply and demand mismatch is most acute, and we will target our efforts moving forward on collaborating with industry to resolve bottlenecks in these nodes.
  • The primary bottleneck across the board appears to be wafer production capacity, which requires a longer-term solution.

DoC urged passage of semiconductor legislation pending in Congress — the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) including $52 billion in funding to support domestic chip manufacturing.  That legislation remains stalled due to disagreements between the House and the Senate as well as a slowdown in annual appropriations across all agencies.

The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2022

National Science Board S&E Indicators

The U.S. National Science Board has released their biennial report on the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. The NSB Science & Engineering Indicators study is a key source of data on the status of U.S. R&D and STEM workforce investments and activities. The report analyzes the overall levels of investment in R&D at all levels (basic/applied/development) by all performers (academic/industry/non-profit/government) and source of funds (government/private/non-profit). It also compares and contrasts the performance of the U.S. with other countries.

Key findings include:

  • Global research and development (R&D) performance is concentrated in a few countries, with the United States performing the most (27% of global R&D in 2019), followed by China (22%), Japan (7%), Germany (6%), and South Korea (4%).
  • The global concentration of R&D performance continues to shift from the United States and Europe to countries in East-Southeast Asia and South Asia.
  • Many middle-income countries, such as China and India, are increasing science and engineering (S&E) publication, patenting activities, and knowledge- and technology-intensive (KTI) output, which has distributed science and technology (S&T) capabilities throughout the globe.
  • The proportion of total U.S. R&D funded by the U.S. government decreased from 31% in 2010 to an estimated 21% in 2019, even as the absolute amount of federally funded R&D increased. This translates into the weakening of the U.S. system of basic research which has long been a pillar of a strong U.S. S&E enterprise.
  • The U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor force represents 23% of the total U.S. labor force, involves workers at all educational levels, and includes higher proportions of men, Whites, Asians, and foreign-born workers than the proportions of these groups in the U.S. population.
  • Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among students earning S&E degrees and among STEM workers with at least a bachelor’s degree. However, their share of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree is similar to their share in the U.S. workforce.
  • Disparities in K–12 STEM education and student performance across demographic and socioeconomic categories and geographic regions are challenges to the U.S. STEM education system, as is the affordability of higher education.
  • The United States awards the most S&E doctorates worldwide. Among S&E doctorate students in the United States, a large proportion are international and over half of the doctorate degrees in the fields of economics, computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics and statistics are awarded to international students.

This year the report marked significant changes to how it analyzes the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. It combines two major component into total STEM workforce: (1) S&E and S&E-related workers with a bachelor’s or higher degree and (2) skilled technical workers (STW) without such a degree.

Industrial Policy — Can the U.S. Find Consensus, Consistency?

U.S. industrial and attendant technology policy has a long and tortured existence often rising and falling in a decadal threat cycle: communism in the 50’s/60’s, oil shocks in the 1970’s, and the rise of Japan in the 1980’s. For many years starting in the 1990’s, the term “industrial policy” was considered verboten, off-limits in policy circles especially among free-market Republicans who preferred to let market forces drive technology investments. This led to a whip-saw effect, U.S. technology initiatives would flourish in times of threat, then languish and die as the U.S. defaulted to market forces alone. Unfortunately, while market forces are highly efficient and effective in picking winners and losers, this process has left the U.S. vulnerable, as the market for critical technologies (and their attendant supply chains) globalized.

With these shifts becoming apparent in the past few years, Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is out today with a new white paper on Strategic Industrial Policy. Because of an increasing reliance on sophisticated globally-sourced dual-use technologies such as semiconductors, Atkinson argues that the United States should adopt what he terms a Strategic-Industrial Policy. In the white paper, Atkinson attempts to refute the standard arguments against industrial policy — picking winners and losers, focus on high profile failures, politicization risks — while arguing that the threat from China to both U.S. economic and national security demands a new approach to U.S. industrial policy.

AFRL Information Directorate to Hold “Ask Me Anything” Session on Upcoming BAA

The Air Force Research Laboratory — Information Directorate (AFRL-RI) will hold a virtual “Ask Me Anything” informational session the upcoming AFRL-RI Broad Area Announcement on Tuesday, December 7, 2021.

Session attendees will receive an overview of ten BAA topics in pre-release on Wednesday, December 1, an outline of the timeline for proposal submission, and the funding opportunities. Participants will have a chance to ask questions and have them answered live by the topic authors, technical professionals, and a representative of the U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR office.

Click here to register