Ohio State-led QuSTEAM initiative awarded $5 million from NSF

Posted: September 17, 2021

A multidisciplinary, multi-institutional program led by The Ohio State University is taking the next step in its aim to develop a diverse, effective and contemporary quantum-ready workforce by revolutionizing and creating more equitable pathways to quantum science education.

QuSTEAM: Convergence Undergraduate Education in Quantum Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, was awarded a $5 million cooperative agreement over a two-year period from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Convergence Accelerator. Following QuSTEAM’s initial assessment period, Phase I, the award will fund Phase II’s objective to build transformative, modular quantum science degree and certification programs.

“I know from personal experience that collaboration is the key to scientific success. Working across disciplines – especially when it comes to the highly complex and multidisciplinary world of quantum science research – will help us more quickly harness the enormous power of this emerging field and deliver real-world results more quickly and efficiently,” said Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson. “As an added bonus, this project enables Ohio State to further part of its core mission, which is to educate the next generation of researchers through educational opportunities that advance diversity and workforce development.”

The rapidly evolving field of quantum information science will enable technological breakthroughs and have far-reaching economic and societal impacts — what researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology refer to as the second quantum revolution. Ohio State is emerging as a key leader in pushing the field forward, recently joining the Chicago Quantum Exchange, a growing intellectual hub for the research and development of quantum technology, as its first regional partner.

“NSF’s Convergence Accelerator is focused on accelerating solutions toward societal impact. Within three years, funded teams are to deliver high-impact results, which is fast for product development,” said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. “During Phase II, QuSTEAM and nine other 2020 cohort teams will participate in an Idea-to-Market curriculum to assist them in developing their solution further and to create a sustainability plan to ensure the effort provides a positive impact beyond NSF funding.”

“QuSTEAM is a great example of how universities and industry can work together to build the foundation for a strong, diverse workforce,” said David Awschalom, the director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange and Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering and Physics at the University of Chicago. “Innovations in this field require us to provide broadly accessible quantum education, and QuSTEAM represents an ambitious approach to training in quantum engineering.”

Unlocking that potential, however, also requires a foundational shift in teaching and growing a quantum-literate workforce. QuSTEAM brings together scientists and educators from over 20 universities, national laboratories, community colleges, and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to develop a research-based quantum education curriculum and prepare the next generation of quantum information scientists and engineers. The initiative also has over 14 industrial partners, including GE Research, Honda and JPMorgan Chase, and collaborates with leading national research centers to help provide a holistic portrait of future workforce needs.

“We have leaders in quantum information and STEM education, and both of these groups independently do good work building undergraduate curriculum, but they actually work together surprisingly rarely,” said QuSTEAM lead investigator Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin, professor in the Department of Physics at Ohio State. “We are talking to people in industry and academia about what aspects of quantum information are most critical, what skills are needed, what workforce training looks like today and what they expect it to look like a couple years from now.”

Syedah Zahra Atiq
Atiq

Johnston-Halperin is joined at Ohio State by QuSTEAM co-PI Andrew Heckler, professor of physics and physics education research specialist. Other Ohio State faculty included on QuSTEAM are Zahra Atiq, assistant professor of practice of computer science and engineering, and David Delaine and Emily Dringenberg, assistant professors of engineering education in the College of Engineering; Daniel Gauthier, professor in the Department of Physics; Christopher Porter, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics; David Penneys, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics; and Edward Fletcher, associate professor of educational studies in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

“We feel strongly about the need for redesigning quantum science education, which is the objective of QuSTEAM,” said Marco Pistoia, head of the Future Lab for Applied Research and Engineering (FLARE) at JPMorgan Chase. “The complexity of the quantum computing stack is enabling the creation of many new job opportunities. It is crucial for quantum curricula nationwide to collectively support this multiplicity of needs, but for this to happen, quantum scientists and engineers must have the proper training. We are very excited to see the impact of QuSTEAM’s work in the near and long term, considering finance is predicted to be the first industry sector to start realizing significant value from quantum computing.”

David Delaine portrait
Delaine

QuSTEAM is headed by five Midwestern universities: lead institution Ohio State, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 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 the IBM-HBCU Quantum Center to recruit faculty from its network of over 20 partner colleges and universities, as well as Argonne National Laboratory. In all, the QuSTEAM team comprises 66 faculty who share expertise in quantum information science and engineering, creative arts and social sciences, and education research.

Emily Dringenberg
Dringenberg

To best develop a quantum-ready workforce, QuSTEAM identified the establishment of a common template for an undergraduate minor and associate certificate programs as the near-term priority. The team will build curricula consisting of in-person, online and hybrid courses for these degree and certification programs — including initial offerings of the critical classes and modules at the respective universities while continuing to assess evolving workforce needs.

QuSTEAM plans to begin offering classes in spring 2022, with a full slate of core classes for a minor during the 2022-2023 academic year. The modular QuSTEAM curriculum will provide educational opportunities for two- and four-year institutions, minority-serving institutions and industry, while confronting and dismantling longstanding biases in STEM education.

“If we want to increase diversity in quantum science, we need to really engage meaningfully with community colleges, minority-serving institutions and other small colleges and universities,” Johnston-Halperin said. “The traditional STEM model builds a program at an elite, R1 university and then allows the content to diffuse out from there. But historically this means designing it for a specific subset of students, and everything else is going to be a retrofit. That’s just never as effective.”

QuSTEAM leverages integrated university support from faculty and staff from the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning, the Institute for Materials Research, the Department of Physics and the Ohio State Office of Research.

QuSTEAM is one of 10 teams selected for two-year, $5 million Phase II funding as part the NSF Convergence Accelerator 2020 Cohort, which supports efforts to fast-track transitions from basic research and discovery into practice, and seeks to address national-scale societal challenges. With this funding, QuSTEAM will address the challenge of developing a strong national quantum workforce by instituting high-quality, engaging courses and educational tracks that allow for students of all backgrounds and interests to choose multiple paths of scholarship.