Opinion: Connecticut must seize quantum technology opportunity and the job creation it brings

Hartford Courant
Monday, March 11, 2024

The elusive world of quantum physics, first uncovered a century ago, is driving a technological revolution today. Quantum technologies are based on peculiar properties of subatomic particles and already help power medical imaging machines and microchips. These technologies are advancing rapidly and extending their impact. Quantum computing, for instance, can handle certain processing problems that classical computers can’t — and it stands to bring huge improvements in fields such as data security, investment portfolios, cancer treatments, transport efficiency, and artificial intelligence.

As quantum physics has taught us over the last century, matter and energy at very small scales behave bizarrely, yet these qualities can be used to create unprecedented new technologies. In a quality called superposition, a particle can exist in many states at once. Another strange behavior is entanglement, where two particles are linked at a distance in a way that makes them, in a sense, the same entity. Superposition means quantum computers can use subatomic particles to calculate a vast number of possible solutions simultaneously, and entanglement could transform how we store and work with data.

The quantum revolution will not only radically alter technology, but also reshape the global economic landscape to a degree that’s hard to overstate. Just as gas-powered transport made horsepower obsolete, the first countries and industries to develop and harness quantum technologies stand to outcompete their counterparts. That goes, too, for Connecticut.

University of Connecticut and Yale University both have strength in quantum research. With partners around the state, our universities have joined forces to make Connecticut a hub for industries that use quantum technologies.

Called QuantumCT, our proposed initiative aims to accelerate research and help industry partners identify problems quantum tech could solve. We are designing it to support inclusive growth, ensuring benefit to the widest possible variety of stakeholders. With workforce development a key priority, QuantumCT will promote equitable job creation and education for lucrative, stable, and rewarding careers in the quantum industry.

The stakes are huge. According to McKinsey, the market for quantum computing, communications, and sensing could reach $106 billion by 2040. Quantum computing alone is predicted to generate as much as $1.27 trillion by 2035 in just the chemical, life sciences, finance, and automotive industries. Connecticut’s defense, biotech, and financial-services industries, too, can expect great gains from quantum tech, and Connecticut communities of all stripes can and should benefit from this abundance.

The time is now

The world is now at a tipping point. Investors are plunging funds into quantum technology start-up companies — of all such investments since 2001, over two-thirds occurred in 2021 and 2022, according to McKinsey. And the National Institute of Standards and Technology is hurrying to meet a 2024 deadline to standardize algorithms that will protect computers from quantum cyberattacks.

UConn and Yale jointly received a grant last May from the National Science Foundation to plan and design QuantumCT. If our full proposal succeeds, Connecticut could receive $160M in federal funds over 10 years to realize this vision.

Other QuantumCT partners include state and municipal government leaders, businesses, nonprofits, and companies, including Boehringer Ingelheim and RTX Technology Research Center, the research arm of RTX businesses Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, and Raytheon.

Congress must release funds

Although UConn and Yale are committed to making Connecticut a quantum corridor, neither we nor the state can do so without long-term federal support.

The grant we received, plus the larger grant we are competing for, comes from the NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines—a program established through the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act. Congress has yet to fully appropriate funds, however, and no NSF Engines awards have gone to New England.

Given the economic competition, this is troubling. The United States’ strength as a science and technology superpower is under intense pressure. According to the Association of American Universities, our research and development investments are at a 45-year low as a share of gross domestic product. In 2023, government investments in science fell some $3 billion short of the amount authorized by CHIPS and Science. So far this year, the outlook is grimmer still: in Congress, both houses have proposed investments at least $7 billion short of what CHIPS and Science allows.

Meanwhile, China’s $15.3 billion government investment in quantum dwarfs the US’s $3.7 billion. The European Union is also outrunning us with $8.4 billion in quantum research. The EU also boasts far more quantum-educated graduates than the US does.

If we don’t reverse these trends, our country will falter in the race to the quantum future. As QuantumCT works to position Connecticut as a quantum tech leader, we urge Congress to fully fund the CHIPS and Science Act—and we invite Connecticut residents, lawmakers, businesses, and organizations to join in the work.

Michael Crair is vice provost for research and William Ziegler III professor of neuroscience and professor of ophthalmology and visual science at Yale University. Pamir Alpay is vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Connecticut.

Hartford Courant