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May 22, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Quantum continues to be a hot topic at the “CO.MOBILITY Summit”

Two panels that we attended focused on technology commercialization and economic development including the all-important topic of the workforce needed.

Two back-to-back sessions during the “CO.MOBILITY Summit” that ended Wednesday in Chattanooga highlighted the opportunities around quantum computing, not just for the local community but for the state and beyond.

In the first of the two panels, Duncan Earl, the former Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientist who co-founded Qubitekk, a company that designs, builds and integrates the hardware and software for quantum networks, asked and answered his own question: “Why build the network before the computers?”

He illustrated the importance of doing both at the same time with an analogy that started with how the telegraph system evolved. Morse Code was required to activate the system and provide information about train traffic. That became the foundation for the development of telephones and later digital technologies.

“Communications networks and devices are spooling each other up,” Earl explained.

He was joined on the panel by two others – Rima Kasia Queid, Senior Commercialization Executive with the Department of Energy (DOE), and Nardo Manaloto, Managing Partner at Qubits Ventures, a pre-seed and seed stage investor.

Noting that it is a “very active investment period” in the quantum sector, Manaloto said that he is interested in anything that builds up quantum networks including software, hardware, and electronics.

Queid said DOE’s interest involves looking at both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial networks.

(Left to Right): Stuart McWhorter, Joe Queenan, Charlie Brock, and Shaun Gleason.

The panel that followed was focused on the topic of “Driving Economic Development Through Quantum Technology.” Moderated by Commissioner Stuart McWhorter of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, it also featured Shaun Gleason, Director of ORNL’s Science-Security Initiative Integration; Charlie Brock, Chief Executive Officer of the Chattanooga Quantum Collaborative; and Joe Queenan, Executive Director of South Carolina Quantum.

The recurring theme as each panelist spoke was the importance of interstate collaboration rather than competition along with the critical need for a qualified workforce that can ensure that U.S. businesses can compete successfully with other countries, not just other states.

To illustrate the workforce preparedness topic, Gleason noted that ORNL had 400 applicants for just 100 slots in the new Quantum Information Science Summer School. That said, one in eight of the students coming to ORNL for experiences this summer will be focused on quantum – from materials to networking computers.

“Quantum is complicated, hard to explain, and difficult to implement,” he added.

Queenan talked about a $15 million appropriation from the South Carolina legislature last year that jumpstarted the initiative he leads to champion the advancement of quantum talent and technology in the Magnolia State.

Known for his skills as a promoter of causes, Brock told those in the session that “we have the assets and a story to tell. The opportunity for us as a state is extraordinary.”

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