Breaking Down Barriers to Science

Breaking Down Barriers 
to Science

The World’s First

Publicly Available Quantum Network Launches

Illinois Physics Professors Virginia “Gina” Lorenz and Paul Kwiat, along with their students, have partnered with The Urbana Free Library to connect the public with quantum science.


Together, they will install a permanent interactive exhibit that lets non-scientists, young and old alike, toy with quantum particles and reproduce experiments that are a cornerstone in quantum physics.

Professor Virginia Lorenz
Virginia Lorenz, Professor of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics

“What I study, quantum optics, is amazing because it brings profound ideas about the universe together in experiments that fit on a table,” she said. “You can see that the world is quantum with just a few components that you set up and adjust with your own hands. I want people to experience that and think, ‘Yeah, this is something I can do, too!’”

Working with colleagues, staff, and students in The Grainger College of Engineering, in collaboration with the library and a public fiber network, Lorenz and Kwiat have created the world’s first publicly accessible quantum network node. It links the local Urbana Free Library to the UIUC campus, and the researchers believe that it is the first quantum technology deployed on public infrastructure that the public can directly access. Lorenz hopes it will demonstrate that everyone can understand and engage with quantum technology.

Paul Kwiat
Paul Kwiat, Professor of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics;
John Bardeen Chair in Electrical Engineering and Physics

Key to this mix of research and citizen science is an existing public fiber-optic network that spans Champaign and Urbana. While such networks are widely used in standard telecom technology, they can be repurposed to support quantum communication channels. The fiber-optic network being used – the UC2B network – was laid with funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

“The UC2B network really gives us an opportunity to make something special,” Lorenz said. “Connecting the Urbana library to UIUC is just the first step, because UC2B connects libraries, schools, and businesses all over Champaign and Urbana. The network was created to give traditionally underserved communities access to the latest in telecom technology, and now we have the chance to give those same communities access to revolutionary quantum technology first.” The quantum rules that govern the world of molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles can often seem counterintuitive. Particles that act like waves. Entangled objects whose connections transcend vast distances. But technology based on those phenomena promises to bring us computers that can solve certain problems that are too difficult for today’s computers, and communication links that are more secure from hackers.

Lorenz believes that for these technologies to fully deliver on their promise, they must be available to everyone regardless of training and background.

“We want to get everyone excited about quantum technology,” she said. “Maybe they’ll think about things in a way that scientists haven’t thought about. Maybe they’ll ask questions that no one has really got an answer to, even if it’s something like, ‘Why not use it like this?’ Or perhaps they  will ask important ethical questions around the technology, or be inspired to incorporate it in art.” 

Physics professors Virginia (Gina) Lorenz and Paul Kwiat are bringing quantum information science to the public via a quantum network joining the Urbana Free Library to campus.

The exhibit will also test out the moonshot idea of a future quantum internet by putting entangled photons out in the wild, where they are more susceptible to real-world circumstances.

Urbana Free Library

Going "Beyond Silicon"

An exponential growth in computing and data generation is driving an urgent need for computing solutions that are energy-efficient and scalable. Chips lie at the heart of this transformation, and the next generation of semiconductors will require innovation across the design stack. While Grainger Engineering has a strong microelectronics portfolio, we are proud to announce new collaborations that will drive “beyond silicon” technologies. 


Samsung Semiconductor Technology Program
Samsung Austin Semiconductor is partnering with Grainger Engineering to continue building the talent pipeline needed to support the growing semiconductor ecosystem throughout the United States. The company is giving $1 million per year to provide support to engineering students who are interested in the semiconductor industry and increase opportunities for recruiting top engineering talent.

NSF Future of Semiconductors (FuSe)
Two new FuSe grants will allow Grainger Engineers to tackle exciting microelectronics-related projects. One will develop an energy-efficient and cost-effective architecture built on novel artificial synaptic transistors to enable continual learning on edge devices. The other will pursue a new paradigm for AI-driven machine vision systems that can be tailored for domain-specific tasks. 

Silicon Crossroads Microelectronics Commons (SCMC) Hub
Grainger Engineers are part of the Silicon Crossroads Microelectronics Commons (SCMC) Hub aimed at supercharging America’s ability to prototype, manufacture and produce microelectronics at scale. The hub is part of a $238 million program announced by the U.S. Department of Defense and funded through the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act.

Beyond Silicon
An Illinois collaboration aims to serve as a national resource by developing a one-stop shop for chip design, fabrication, and future R&D.

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This story was published October 25, 2023.

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