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Boise State joins regional partners to explore quantum economy potential

Through a $1 million National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines Development Award, researchers from Boise State and other regional universities are poised to explore how their states can be leaders in technologies based on quantum physics, which are expected to play a critical role in 21st century communications, computing and other fields. 

Researchers from the College of Engineering, College of Business and Economics and College of Arts and Sciences will establish a network of partners to address key gaps in the national quantum supply chain, including quantum materials, devices and support systems. This group will also build Quantum Capacity, Operational Resilience and Equity (QCORE) in the three-state region of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“Building a robust quantum innovation ecosystem is crucial for economics and national security,” said Lan Li, associate professor of materials science and engineering, and Boise State’s principal investigator on the award. “Quantum computing and information systems open new market opportunities in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, financial services and complex manufacturing. U.S. competitiveness in this market strongly relies on a sustainable quantum supply chain and workforce development in quantum innovation.” 

This partnership with Montana State University, the lead institution of the grant, will bring Boise State and the University of Wyoming together to form the three-state northern intermountain ecosystem, together with the support of companies and economic development organizations in the region.

Li will lead with the objectives to explore and advance economic development, and use-inspired research innovation and workforce development to strengthen Idaho’s role in the national quantum supply chain. Collaborating with co-investigator Brett Adkins, director of the Office of Technology Transfer, and with Jack Marr, clinical associate professor at the Department of Management will strengthen the transfer of quantum technology from Boise State by building collaborative partnerships with end-user communities. 

“With this planning award, we look forward to aligning our strengths and priorities with those of our local and regional partners to catalyze our efforts to create a quantum innovation ecosystem in our region,” Adkins said.

The team will navigate how the nascent quantum space fits into existing high-tech clusters and supporting resources, infrastructure and best practices within the region. 

“The NSF Engines grant gives our communities a great opportunity to build on our already formidable tech, research and lifestyle clusters in the region and further strengthen our place as a national and global center of critical ideas and talent in the future,” Marr said. 

The NSF Engines grant also benefits current research being conducted at Boise State. It will support expansion of the university’s nationally recognized role in molecular and solid-state quantum materials development and characterization, led by Olga Mass, senior research scholar in the Quantum DNA group, and co-investigator and the director of the Collaboratory for Epitaxy of Nanomaterials, Paul Simmonds.

“It is enormously exciting to be a part of this project that will see a desperately needed injection of resources into the region’s quantum science infrastructure,” Simmonds said. “A variety of factors mean that Idaho and neighboring states have lagged behind other parts of the nation when it comes to research into cutting edge quantum materials. This award will help to rectify this imbalance and position our region as a critical component in the quantum supply chain.”

Besides economic development and research innovation, the NSF Engines project will place a large emphasis on workforce development benefitting not only the universities involved, but the states and communities that house these campuses as well. Boise State’s team will look to identify workforce needs, explore existing teaching and learning resources and develop a plan to meet the needs of the regional quantum ecosystem.

“This award provides an exciting opportunity to create a vibrant entrepreneurial culture at Boise State,” Mass said. “We look forward to translating fundamental quantum science research and innovation into startups and business ventures and creating a synergetic relationship between academia and industry in our region.”

Boise State has received three NSF Engines Development Awards. The National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program provides two-year funding and support for a variety of outreach and strategic planning efforts. The NSF Engines program is a transformational investment for the nation, ensuring the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.