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March 03, 2024 | Tom Ballard

“Quantum Conversations” shows alignment of Chattanooga interests

The session started with a focus on the new Chattanooga Quantum Collaborative and ended with a presentation on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s 20-year history around quantum.

If you ever wondered just how aligned the Chattanooga community is around quantum computing, you could see it on display late Thursday afternoon at an event called “Quantum Conversations.”

Hosted by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s (UTC) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), the 90-plus-minute event drew about 50 people to hear a series of presentations on the emerging technology that once again places the Scenic City in a world-leading position. Mike Bradshaw, CIE Director, moderated the session that started with a focus on the new Chattanooga Quantum Collaborative (CQC) and ended with a presentation on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) 20-year history around quantum.

The work, however, started even before the late November 2022 announcement that EPB, the city’s provider of energy, communications, and related services unveiled its latest initiative named the EPB Quantum NetworkSM powered by Qubitekk. In the 15 months since the initiative was unveiled, the partners have announced that they are accepting applications from prospective customers who want to test their technologies on America’s first commercially available quantum network. They have also: (1) added UTC as the first university with a node; (2) announced that the network is now the nation’s only software-configurable quantum network, thanks to a partnership with Aliro Quantum ; and (3) landed Qunnect, a leader in quantum-secure networking technology, as the first customer.

One of the speakers was Jim Ingraham, Vice President for Strategic Research at EPB, and he put a quantifiable metric on the amount of interest in the network that exists globally. “Two hundred and twenty million people have opened stories since the November 2022 announcement,” he said.

First up among the five presenters was Charlie Brock, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Launch Tennessee, who serves in that same role at the CQC. He described the new 501(c)(3) organization as focused on answering a series of questions: How do we optimize for quantum in this community? How do we pull assets together to connect and convene? How do we seize opportunities in this quantum age – locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally?

Brock said the Collaborative is focused on infrastructure, economic development and commercialization, and workforce for the quantum age. “Our 10-year goal is $5 billion in community benefit and a 5,000-person strong regional quantum-ready workforce,” he added.

The four strategies that CQC is pursuing involve six words that begin with the letter C: (1) coordinate and collaborate; (2) connect and convene; (3) communicate; and (4) catalyze. Brock said he had been urged to find some words that start with the letter Q. He’s still working on that goal!

(Left to Right) Bailey, Mann, Gleason, Ingraham and Bradshaw.

Other speakers were: (1) Danna Bailey, Chief Communications Officer at Qubitekk; (2) Reinhold Mann, UTC’s Vice Chancellor for Research; (3) Ingraham; and (4) Shaun Gleason, Director of the Science-Security Integration Initiative at ORNL.

Bailey explained that San Diego-based Qubitekk, which has a local office in the Edney Innovation Center, offers four product lines. They involve components for quantum networks, platforms which she said are miniature networks, full-blown systems, and learning tools like Qubitekk’s Quantum Starter Kit. The latter gives users the tools to explore and more deeply understand quantum physics.

While explaining that quantum computing will not replace classical computing, Mann described how UTC is preparing the workforce needed – from certificate programs to a Ph.D. He also unveiled a new video titled “University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – Getting Ready for the Quantum Age.” You can find it at this link.

Ingraham, who was a key player in the evolution of the network, said that Chattanooga has “the most advanced (quantum) system you’ll find anywhere.” He described an economic development vision where companies in Chattanooga would be started to create, build, and sell quantum technologies to other network providers. Ingraham also noted that high-potential use cases exist around energy systems, mobility, advanced manufacturing, logistics, and insurance.

Gleason said that “our sponsor base (at ORNL) has been funding quantum (work) since 2002.” From an eight-person team in 2013, the lab now has 60 people working on quantum activities. He said ORNL is home to a 300-kilometer testbed, the quantum network in the national lab system.

Putting the audience on notice that ORNL will be hosting the “Southeast Quantum Conference” in late October in Knoxville, Gleason also outlined a vision for something called the Southeast Quantum Corridor that would connect ORNL’s testbed, the EPB efforts, and similar efforts in nearby regions to leverage the collective expertise to position the Southeast as an international leader.

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