Quantum Tech's Path to Commercialization Will Be a 2023 NIST Priority

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology spearheaded applied quantum research in 2022, and looks to further stand up the growing industry in the coming year.

Quantum sensing and post-quantum cryptography are two technologies that researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be prioritizing in the coming year as researchers focus on the logistics behind commercializing applied quantum technologies. 

James Kushmerick, the director of NIST’s Physical Measurements Laboratory, told Nextgov that the agency’s next step for post-quantum cryptography is standardizing the quantum-resistant algorithms released earlier this year.   

“Post quantum crypto, or PQC, is hugely important…and NIST has identified four algorithms which they're working through the process of standardizing…with the community,” he said. “Post quantum cryptography is definitely a high priority and there…continue[s] to be a lot of effort in that arena.”

Continuing partnerships with labs and experts in the private sector, industry, and academia will continue to help fuel new quantum sciences research, particularly within the Quantum Economic Development Consortium. In addition to the actual development of new technology, partnering institutions will also lend a holistic perspective to determine how to support quantum technologies’ entrance into the commercial marketplace. 

He referenced programs like NIST on a Chip, which has quantum devices and sensors to deliver precise measurements in a singular software chip. Kushmerick said that NIST is looking to form new partnerships with industry leaders to craft a durable product fit for market distribution. 

Despite the demand, scalability and commercialization are two of the largest challenges scientists face.

“One of the real advantages there is we can look in the pre competitive space,” Kushmerick said. “Then we can kind of collectively solve some of these problems that are not unique to any one application or any one technology but, you know, will be needed across the board.”

Kushmerick cites the development of adjacent low-cost, low-power foundational technologies—like cryocoolers to keep quantum processing systems cool—as one example of the larger infrastructure that will need to be developed to make quantum technologies sustainable. 

“A lot of quantum systems require to be cooled down, you know, close to absolute zero. So there's different ways you can do that: you can use liquid helium, you can use a dilution refrigerator. And many of these are large … laboratory-scale kind of systems. If you…need to cool down and have these in, you know, at every cell tower, let's say if you were building up a sensor network or something, you need to be able to do this at a lower size, weight and power swap kind of aspect, but also at a lower enough cost, that it's actually deployable,” he said. “If it's $2 million a pop … no one's going to be able to afford that.” 

Despite the innovations made with quantum sensing technology and post-quantum cryptographic standards, Kushmerick noted that NIST is still researching a slew of other applications related to its core mission surrounding measurement standardization. 

“We need to be there for the superconducting qubit, for the ion trapping, for the photonics, so we have programs that span all the main technology paths, so that we're cognizant and developing the metrology needed in them,” he said. 

Alongside maintaining industry partnerships, NIST is also focusing on promoting U.S. leadership in developing open standards to promote fair competition in emerging tech industries. 

“There's entities that try to narrowly define standards to lock a market in or to keep people out of a market. So that's where really the United States as a whole needs to engage,” he said. 

But before any use or consensus standards come into play, Kushmerick cautioned that the mass onset of quantum technologies is still far away, citing steady federal support as the final piece of the puzzle to stand up a commercialized quantum industry.

“Quantum technology is going to take a while––even though we have individual qubits and things like that––to really scale up and that we need to, you know, have consistent effort from across the government to really make that happen,” he said. “We have to take this long approach to it.”