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Race to develop quantum computing featured at RIT this week

It’s a little like the space race, and a piece of it is going on at Rochester Institute of Technology this week.

Starting Wednesday, RIT will host a three-day workshop on quantum technology, attempting to advance the field by harnessing photons to drive computer calculations much faster.   The event was spurred by the National Quantum Initiative Act, which became law in December and allocated $1.3 billion for quantum study. But China has announced that it has allocated $10 billion for the same thing.

“They’re trying to compete and win a race,” said Don Figer, conference organizer and director of RIT’s Future Photon Initiative.

The first country to make quantum computing practical will be able to make computations on many levels at once and more quickly, leapfrogging over the current binary technology.

“The scary part is much of the world’s encryption is based on the fact that classical computers take inordinate amount of time (before they) can break encryption,” said Figer.  One indication of interest in the subject is RIT pulled together the conference in just a couple of months, when academic conferences usually take a year’s lead time to gather speakers and participants. More than 130 people will attend to hear 30 speakers.

Some of the speakers are local, pulled from industry and academic researchers working in photonics now. Others come from high-profile universities and laboratories, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Sandia and Oak Ridge national laboratories. Representatives of the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will also present.

They’re all trying to create the next leap in quantum understanding.

“Quantum physics led to transformative technologies in the last century—transistors, microelectronics, LEDs, lasers, nuclear power, digital cameras and magnetic resonance imaging,” Figer said. “Our focus is using photons to enable a Quantum 2.0 revolution,” Figer said. “We’ve chosen photons because we’re good at that.”

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