In 2000, Preskill and Kimble received a grant from the National Science Foundation, which they used that same year to form the Institute for Quantum Information (IQI).
“NSF got a wave of funding for a program they called Information Technology Research, which involved a lot of practical stuff, but also kind of a crazy fringe of blue-sky research. And we were part of that,” Preskill told AIP. “We had a great group of young people in the early 2000s coming through, many of whom are now leaders of quantum information research, like Patrick Hayden, and Guifré Vidal, and Frank Verstraete, and quite a few others.”
Vidal (postdoc ’01–’05), now a senior research scientist at Google, recalled those early days as a Caltech postdoc during a Heritage Project interview: “John had the vision … to hire interesting young people for [IQI]and then apply a hands-off approach. He’s not the type of person who has to control everything and everyone.”
Dave Bacon (BS ’97), a former IQI postdoc, recalled IQI as a leading hub for quantum computing research:
“John literally started inviting everyone in the field to visit. … It was like all the quantum computing was flowing through that place, and I was in the main place where we would have the group meetings,” he said in a Heritage Project interview. “It felt like everyone would come in and give a talk right outside my office. It was perfect.”
Liang Jiang (BS ’04), a former IQI postdoc and current professor at the University of Chicago, told Zierler during a Heritage Project interview that the weekly meetings were so full of discussions and questions that Preskill had to impose a time limit: You could only talk for one minute because some of the group members would get really excited about the results and talk a lot about their research.”
By 2011, advances in quantum computing hardware such as superconducting circuits and qubits (the quantum mechanical analog of a classical bit) prompted Preskill and Kimble to apply for more NSF funding as a means of expanding the scope of the IQI to include experimental work. They received that funding and in 2011, changed the name to the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, for which Preskill is the Allen VC Davis and Lelabelle Davis Leadership Chair of the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology.
Spiros Michalakis, staff researcher and outreach manager at IQIMdescribed this name change in a recent Heritage Project interview as a “visionary move,” one that continues to bear fruit: “We attach ‘M’ matter — and it really mattered because … we started talking about how you can implement certain things and how you can turn some theories into experiments….I didn’t know a lot of physicists or a lot of people who were part of physics or even mathematical physics…that basically weren’t associated with IQIM in some way … If you look at the roster, even now, for the second iteration of IQIM, the second cycle we have, there’s a pretty cool hodgepodge of people.”
As a sign of the advancement of quantum computing at Caltech and beyond, the Institute collaborated with Amazon to build the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, which opened on campus last year. The goal of the collaboration is to create quantum computing and related technologies that have the potential to revolutionize data security, machine learning, drug development, sustainability practices and more.
“It’s great to see many of the graduate students and postdocs from the early days of IQIM returning to campus as senior research scientists at the AWS Center for Quantum Computing’ says Michalakis. “IQIM brought together theorists and experimenters with a vision of a transformative future for all. Amazingly, we are already reaping the benefits of that vision as the era of quantum information science and engineering unfolds before our eyes at an unprecedented pace. What an exciting time to be alive.”