Educating a quantum workforce with QuSTEAM while opening doors to a broad and diverse range of students

Michigan is part of a multi-institution effort to create new flexible courses for undergraduate students interested in being part of the second quantum revolution

Michigan is one of five institutions collaborating in a 2-year $5M NSF initiative called QuSTEAM: Convergence Undergraduate Education in Quantum Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. This multidisciplinary program, led by Ohio State University, aims to revolutionize quantum science education and develop a diverse, effective and contemporary quantum-ready workforce.

“The spirit of the project is to build a scalable model and expand quickly to other institutions in the U.S.” said P.C. Ku, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and coordinator of the effort at Michigan.

QuSTEAM is a massive collaborative effort involving 66 faculty with expertise in quantum information science and engineering, creative arts and social sciences, and education research. The University of Chicago, Michigan State University, and the University of Illinois completes the team of five universities heading QuSTEAM, all of which have partnered with local community colleges and regional partners with established transfer pipelines to engage underrepresented student populations.

The group is also collaborating with Chicago State University, which is a Minority Serving Institution (MSI), and the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center to recruit faculty from its network of over 20 partner colleges and universities, as well as Argonne National Laboratory.

“By collaborating with faculty from MSIs during course development,” said Ku, “we can address diversity, equity, and inclusion from day one.”

The QuSTEAM initiative is part of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, which brings together multiple disciplines, expertise, and cross-cutting partnerships to solve national-scale societal challenges. In September 2019, QuSTEAM was selected for phase 1 of the Convergence Accelerator’s 2020 cohort, focused on Quantum Technology and AI-Driven Data Sharing and Modeling. After an intense 9 month curriculum, the QuSTEAM presented a phase 2 formal proposal and pitch and was selected for the next phase. During phase 2, the team will continue developing the solution prototype and will develop a sustainability plan, beyond NSF funding, to ensure QuSTEAM impacts thousands or millions of undergraduate students.    

The challenge is for the U.S. to be able to lead globally in a technological future that has moved beyond transistors and into the realm of atomic-scale quantum devices.

Why Quantum now?

Quantum technology is not new, but some of its secrets – including quantum entanglement and quantum superposition – have been tamed to the point where engineers are able to take control and build reliable devices from a variety of quantum materials. This has brought society to what has been called the Second Quantum Revolution.

Industry is quickly expanding into emerging areas that include quantum computing, quantum sensors, and quantum communications. In the auto industry, for example, Ford is exploring quantum AI to address the technological needs of self-driving cars. Additional applications include secure computing and communications, big data analysis, highly-accurate healthcare imaging and environmental sensing, weather forecasting, and scientific discoveries.

What’s needed, but lacking, is a workforce comprised not only of highly-trained doctoral recipients, but also entry-level engineers holding bachelor’s degrees, or even associate certificates, with some exposure to the area of quantum science and technology.

Building flexible, scalable quantum courses through modules

“Our goal is to train the best workforce,” said Ku. “The unique concept we’ll be introducing is a modular approach to building each course.”

QuSTEAM faculty are organizing themselves into groups which will create four core courses for a minor in quantum technology; the minor will also include two sets of electives.

However, they won’t be designing four unique courses in a traditional way. Instead, they’ll be creating a wide range of modules for each course. These modules that can be easily adapted for use by any institution – with little need for additional input from faculty teaching the course.

This will allow each school to create the course that works best for their institution based on its unique resources and its own culture. Michigan ECE may focus on materials, devices and technology, for example, while another department may want to focus on quantum algorithms.

The first course in the QuSTEAM minor will only require a high school level mastery of basic algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. The four courses will focus on quantum information, quantum logic and devices, quantum systems and applications, and include a quantum laboratory.

Quantum and QuSTEAM at Michigan

Michigan has provided leading innovation in the area of Quantum Science and Engineering for many decades, including the groundbreaking discovery of self-organized quantum dots in the 1988, important discoveries that continue to advance quantum computing, and recent breakthroughs in technology key to next-generation clean energy devices. New research is also in the works to develop controllable nano-quantum materials to advance the next generation of quantum technologies.

From a research perspective, Michigan’s strengths include quantum materials, quantum theory and computation, quantum laser spectroscopy, quantum sensing, and quantum optics and photonics.

In addition to Ku, faculty contributing to the core course modules at Michigan are Parag Deotare, Mack Kira, and Duncan Steel from Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Robert Hovden and Max Shtein from Materials Science and Engineering. These six faculty will work alongside their collaborators from the larger group of 66 faculty.

Ku expects Michigan to pilot its first set of QuSTEAM courses as early as Fall 2022.

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