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IBM Quantum Computer Makes Its University Debut

Officials on Friday announced the deployment of the first IBM Quantum System One computer on a university campus, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. It’s aimed at driving quantum research and education programming.

The IBM Quantum System One is depicted in a room: a large cube with white beams of light.
The IBM Quantum System One, unveiled Friday in RPI's Voorhees Computing Center.
Image from IBM
Researchers and students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York now have access to the world’s first-ever IBM Quantum System One computer deployed on a university campus, thanks to a partnership with the tech giant.

The new system will be used to advance research in quantum computing, and prepare students for tomorrow’s quantum workforce by familiarizing them with the emerging technology, officials said in a news release Friday. Its launch is part of broader efforts by the university to establish itself as a global hub for quantum research and education, said RPI President Marty Schmidt.

“Our students are eager to explore quantum computing’s applications in addressing our toughest challenges, and I’m excited to witness the creativity of both our students and faculty researchers as they unlock quantum’s potential to shape a better future,” Schmidt said in a statement. The university’s partnership with IBM and the support of trustee Curtis Priem, he added, will facilitate the the quantum computer’s use for “global problem-solving” and student training, to “establish the Capital Region as a hub for quantum innovation — our own ‘Quantum Valley.’”

Olivia Lanes, global lead of IBM quantum advocacy and education, said prior to the unveiling that the new system will play a key role in creating the next generation of quantum technology, amid advancements in the field.

“We’re setting [the university] up very well to be able to explore it as an educational tool, but also to blend that into a research tool that they can use for ongoing projects,” Lanes said in an interview.

Per the news release, the new system is powered by a 127-qubit IBM quantum Eagle processor, which can produce accurate calculations in a fraction of the time current computer systems require. It’s part of the company’s global fleet of quantum computers that are accessible via the cloud, and at sites in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan.

U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, who represents the area, said in a statement he hopes the new quantum computer will help establish the university and the region as a focal point for quantum technology.

“Through initiatives like the CHIPS and Science Act and partnerships like this one, we are paving the way for a future of innovation and high-tech manufacturing here in [the region] — ensuring our communities remain at the forefront of technological advancement,” he said.

As the first university in the world to house an IBM Quantum System One, Lanes said RPI will be able to develop new quantum curriculum and education programs to upskill the quantum workforce. IBM, she noted, has created short modules for courses where students touch on quantum tech concepts.

While quantum technology is still in its infancy, she said, the system will serve as a foundation for research and development geared toward making it practical and applicable for a variety of use cases, and for familiarizing other disciplines with it.

“We don’t have what we would say is a ‘quantum advantage’ yet, but we have what we would say is ‘quantum utility’ — running long circuits that can basically be used to extract data that could be useful to researchers. We want to explore areas of chemistry, material science, quantum machine learning and finance, for example,” Lanes said. “I think we have a chance here to involve way more people in this technology revolution than we have [with others] in the past.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.