Pictured above – Tech student David Leathers, who took a quantum computing course in the spring of 2022, plays a game he developed with Associate Professor Muhammad Ismail that helps students learn quantum fundamentals.

Quantum computing is a form of “supercomputing” that uses principles of quantum mechanics

Cookeville – Tennessee Tech University’s computer science department has been awarded more than $270,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a three-year project to develop quantum computing courses, workshops and research projects.

Quantum computing is a form of “supercomputing” that uses principles of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems faster than a classical computer. The funding is part of a grant titled, “Creating and Sustaining a Diverse Community of Expertise in Quantum Information Science (EQUIS) Across the Southeastern United States.”

Tech received the largest share of funding among four other partner universities including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Auburn University.

“Tennessee Tech is well-positioned to lead the efforts of quantum networking, security, computing and machine learning in the Southeastern U.S.,” said Muhammed Ismail, associate professor of computer science at Tech and principal investigator for the NSF-funded project. “We aim to compete nationally in these areas, and this award is the first step in that direction as it provides our students with the foundational education and research skills to excel in these areas and join the quantum workforce.”

Three of Ismail’s quantum-focused master’s students have already graduated, while three Ph.D. candidates are pursuing research. According to Ismail, the quantum technology market is projected to be worth $106 billion by 2040 and will generate revenue of $1,270 billion due to its impact on life sciences, chemistry, financial services, the automotive industry and other sectors.

With the NSF grant in hand, Ismail says the next step is to engage with Tech’s partner institutions to develop and deliver the quantum education materials, which will be used in courses at Tech and other universities involved in the EQUIS grant.

Tech is also receiving in-kind support from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and IBM Quantum in the form of speakers, trainings and internship opportunities.

“We will be making visits to two- and four-year partner institutions in the spring to begin the process of creating the pipeline of students,” added Anthony Skjellum, professor of computer science at Tech. “We will be looking to expand the partnership with other colleges and universities as we grow the program.”

According to Ismail and Skjellum, the university aims to start developing courses and making them available to students within the first year, then focusing on refining and improving the courses over the final two years of the project window. Preparations are also underway for summer semester workshops and trainings.

Tech is recognized as a center of academic excellence in cybersecurity by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center (CEROC) is the sole host in the state for GenCyber, a cybersecurity camp funded by NSA and NSF for high school students offered in locations across the country.

Skjellum says the courses are another way Tech provides a STEM-infused education that gives students an advantage in their future careers.

“We are preparing for a quantum future in which supercomputing, AI and cybersecurity are transformed and enhanced by this emerging technology for computing, communication and security,” said Skjeullum. “I am so excited to be working with my partners to educate and train the quantum workforce in our southeastern region and advance quantum R&D in Tennessee.”

Learn more about Tech’s computer science department at www.tntech.edu/csc.

Photos courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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