IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Unveils Quantum Computer

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the first and so far only university in the world to own a quantum computer, another in a string of milestone events as the college celebrates its bicentennial.

Shutterstock/Bartlomiej K. Wroblewski
(TNS) — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) recently held a massive ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration to unveil its fully operational quantum computer.

RPI is the first and so far only university in the world to own a quantum computer, another in a string of milestone events as the college celebrates its bicentennial. The IBM Quantum System One is housed in a specially designed room inside RPI's historic Voorhees Computing Center Chapel.

The quantum computer's storage area protects the highly delicate system, which must be kept still and at a temperature as close to absolute zero as possible, from many types of interference including dirt, static, heat, vibration, and — as the campus discovered firsthand — earthquakes.

The quantum computer is already online and fully operational. As part of its ongoing efforts to push the boundaries of computing, RPI has announced a partnership with SUNY Albany.

The partnership is unique, as it pairs a public university with a private one. Researchers at the state school — student and faculty alike — will have access to the IBM Quantum System One, and in return, researchers at RPI will have access to SUNY Albany's prototype IBM Artificial Intelligence Unit (AIU) computing cluster. Just like RPI's quantum computer, SUNY Albany's AIU cluster is the first of its kind on a university campus anywhere in the world.

"Since the day (RPI) President (Martin) Schmidt walked in the door, he said 'Let's form a partnership and collaborate.' It's all about initiatives for the public good," SUNY Albany President Havidán Rodríguez said. "We're very enthusiastic about the partnership."

The ribbon-cutting celebration was held in two parts. For the first half, RPI President Dr. Martin Schmidt '81 was joined by many representatives from RPI and IBM, as well as Rodríguez and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, inside the Voorhees Computing Center Chapel for the physical ribbon cutting.

The event was also live-streamed to the RPI community, who watched from the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). Though a brief power outage at the EMPAC caused a slight hiccup in the ceremony, the ribbon was cut successfully.

"We like to think that this computer is going to solve problems that classic computers can't, but first we have to figure out what those problems are," Schmidt remarked. "Having this computer on campus will give us a head start on that. It's a great platform for us to learn what quantum computing can do. It's our opportunity to educate our students (on) how to do that.

"We'll be 'quantum ready,' and the UAlbany faculty and students will be ready with us. They'll be able to learn along with us. We'll be developing that quantum computing curriculum together."

"The beauty of being on a campus means you have fresh thinking, you have minds that are open to new means of discovery," Tonko commented. "We have a good coming-together here of the public and private sectors. The pioneering that will go on here, having the workforce development here, is a golden opportunity. There's no denying we're one of the hottest centers in the country right now for semiconductors — we've got R&D, manufacturing, and workforce development all here in the Capital District. We're now in a position to be very well-poised to demand that we be the center point of the industry."

Quantum computing pairs with the semiconductor industry because the former helps the development and improvement of the latter. As SUNY Albany Vice President for Research Thenkurussi (Kesh) Kesavadas explained, "The semiconductor industry works with computing. Quantum computing does number crunching but works at a much higher level. It solves bigger problems that can improve the semiconductor technologies."

Jay Gambetta, the vice president of IBM Quantum, is excited to see where the RPI community goes with the machine IBM has placed in its care.

"The way I look at quantum computing, it's the next wave of computing," he said. "You first need to build the platform and prove it can be done. We've done that. Then you need to build the algorithms and the software and put it to use, and that's what's happening right now. I think that has to start with the student role. At IBM we want to build the best compute system, but that's only half the equation."

Curtis Priem, vice president of RPI's Board of Trustees, was instrumental in making a quantum computer at RPI a reality through generous philanthropic support and persistent dedication to the project. Looking back on the path to the groundbreaking event, he noted that it was one more step on the path he'd been following for decades.

"46 years ago, I made a decision to come to RPI because they had just installed an IBM 3033 computer," he remarked. "Having that computing power onsite is very very important, and it's always been part of our culture. Then we brought over a supercomputer, and it's the fastest supercomputer on any campus. Now we've got the quantum computer. I'm seeing myself through these kids' eyes from 45 years ago.

"The difference is the turnaround time for researchers. The quantum computer can put out 10,000 "shots" (computing results) in about fifteen seconds. We're not standing around waiting for results, we're in constant motion, which is the only way you're going to innovate."

After the ribbon was cut, Schmidt and his guests moved to the EMPAC for the second half of the ceremony, where he and his VIP guests — Tonko, Priem, Rodríguez, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, and RPI Board of Trustees President John Kelly III — addressed the RPI student body directly. Joining the RPI community in the EMPAC were several more local and state elected officials, including Troy Mayor Carmella Mantello and State Sen. Jake Ashby.

Also present were members of the RPI Quantum Computing Club, founded just a semester before the announcement of the plan to put a quantum computer on campus. The Quantum Computing Club seeks to raise student awareness of quantum computing and make it more accessible to everyone. Schmidt and his VIPs were all made honorary members of the club, and club Co-President Michael Papadopoulos issued a call to action to the RPI student body, encouraging them all to make use of the quantum computer.

About halfway through the VIP speeches, the Capital Region experienced an earthquake Friday morning, whose epicenter was located a mile from Tewksbury, New Jersey. The earthquake measured 4.8 on the Richter Scale and was the third strongest in the state's history. The IBM Quantum System One was unaffected.

Priem noted that the quantum computer, which will be accessible to all RPI students, is a symbol of the college's culture from the beginning. Active, hands-on learning was one of the ten Orders decreed by RPI founder Stephen Van Rensselaer, and 200 years later it still holds true.

"It's been our culture from day one to have hands-on access," Priem said. "Go use the computer!"

Kelly, who was thrilled to see two of the "great institutions of his life now working together," concluded his speech by telling the RPI students, "This puts RPI at the forefront — the bleeding edge — of computer science. You have now been given a jewel. Take this opportunity and do things with it that have never been done in the world. Do good things with this system."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, a large reception was held for the RPI community and all its guests on the café level of the EMPAC. In addition to food and beverages, employees from Stewart's Shops were there to hand out free scoops of Quantum Freeze, the new flavor of ice cream named in honor of the IBM Quantum System One and a nod to the computer's need to be stored at temperatures twenty times colder than outer space.

© 2024 The Record, Troy, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.