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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute First to Have Quantum Computer

With the installation of the IBM Quantum System One, inside campus's Voorhees Computing Center for student use, a private research university in New York will be the world's first college to have a quantum computer.

quantum computing processor
Shutterstock/Yurchanka Siarhei
(TNS) — Move over, Ant-Man. "Quantumania" has reached the Capital District, as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) becomes the first college in the world to own a quantum computer system.

IBM is the latest in a long line of companies partnering with RPI, setting the stage for the college to become a technological leader as it stands on the brink of the "Quantum Era." The IBM Quantum System One will be installed inside the campus's Voorhees Computing Center and will be immediately available for student use.

At a press conference held inside RPI's EMPAC theater, the new computer was unveiled to the public for the first time. In attendance were many elected officials, RPI students, and RPI alumni.

"We are about to unveil a quantum computer," said chairman of RPI's board of trustees John Kelly '78. "When running, our students will be able to use it to help tackle this world's problems that supercomputers just can't handle."

The quantum computer system is the next step in computer evolution. It uses the laws of quantum mechanics to process information, making it able to solve problems that are too complex for traditional supercomputers. Because of their advanced structure, which is both massive and delicate, quantum computers must be cooled to temperatures colder than outer space and isolated from all vibrations in order to properly operate.

Weighing approximately five tons, the IBM Quantum System One's core, called a "quantum chandelier" because of its distinctive shape, is the system's "guts" — the processing unit that will drive the computer's massive abilities. It is going to be installed in a specially built room in the Voorhees Computing Center. The chandelier will be sheathed in a protective casing that will maintain the extremely cold temperatures needed for operation, and placed in a glass-enclosed space that shields it from vibration. Construction efforts for the storage facility will be careful to maintain the Voorhees building's architecture and aesthetics.

"Today we're celebrating a new era at RPI," said college president Martin Schmidt '81. "I firmly believe that the Capital Region has everything it needs to become a leading innovation hub in the world, and I fully intend to support RPI as a leader in that innovation."

Schmidt explained that the quantum computer was ready for "immediate student use," even though ground was just being broken on the construction for its storage room. There is already data students can access in the computer system's cloud, and the computer itself is expected to be installed and fully operational in January.

"We're deeply grateful to IBM for their investment in RPI," Schmidt said. "We need to prepare our students and researchers for the dawn of the Quantum Era. I like to think of it as skating to the place where the puck will be. Sorry, but you know we like hockey here. I believe that with the quantum computer system, we're going to discover wonders."

The quantum computer system represents an investment of more than $150 million for RPI, which was funded in part by philanthropic support from Curtis Priem '82, vice chair of RPI's board of trustees.

Priem was impressed by how much support RPI had received to acquire the system, and described in a series of anecdotes how the process had evolved from an idea to a reality in the very speedy timespan of just two months from proposal to contract. For his generous philanthropy, Priem was given an award of recognition by Schmidt.

"I've never seen a project go this fast," Priem commented. "I've never seen a project this big get so much funding this quickly."

"Today is a monumental day for IBM, for RPI, and for quantum computing," said Dario Gil, IBM's senior vice president and director of Research. "With quantum computers, RPI will be at the forefront, ushering in a new era of quantum utility. We firmly believe that the next great discoveries in quantum computing will not come from IBM.

"They will come from the explorers in our community, like the ones who are sitting in this room. I can't wait to get started."

At the conclusion of the conference, Schmidt addressed the students seated in the auditorium.

"You now have a tool that no other university in the world has," he said. "Let's take it and do great things."

©2023 The Record, Troy, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.