DOE Announces $30 Million for Quantum Information Science to Tackle Emerging 21st Century Challenges

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to provide $30 million for Quantum Information Science (QIS) research that helps scientists understand how nature works on an extremely small scale—100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. QIS can help our nation solve some of the most pressing and complex challenges of the 21st century, from climate change to national security. Watch this video to learn more about QIS.
“Quantum computing and devices are poised to revolutionize the way we process information and develop new technologies that are currently beyond our reach,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “From developing novel materials to building better batteries to moving clean electricity across the country more efficiently, the field of quantum information sciences can help us accelerate discoveries to solve complex problems in energy and beyond.”
QIS helps researchers discover new ways to measure, analyze, process, and communicate information. Potential applications for this work range from quantum computers to enable complex power forecasting to prevent outages during extreme weather events, to quantum devices to enable new smart windows, clothes, and buildings that can change their properties on demand.
“Quantum information sciences have become essential tools for our National Labs to take on the challenges of the modern world,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “This strong investment in the Department’s NSRCs will support their cutting-edge discoveries and strengthen America’s competitiveness in this emerging field. The Nation’s future is inextricably tied to the future of our National Labs, and I will keep working to ensure that they receive the necessary resources to support their invaluable work.”
“The U.S. is a world leader in high-tech innovation and jobs. This investment will help ensure we continue to build on our record of achieving advancements in quantum computing research and development and the high-paying jobs it creates,” said Senator Steve Daines.
DOE's “Quantum Information Science and Research Infrastructure” $30 million funding opportunity is focused on developing advanced capabilities for synthesizing, constructing, and understanding quantum structures and phenomena, as well as making these capabilities available to the greater scientific community via access to DOE’s five Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs).
The five NSRCs were established by DOE's Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program in the Office of Science, and provide access to leading-edge synthesis, characterization, computational tools, and scientific expertise. Their research supports DOE's mission to advance the energy, economic, and national security of the United States.
All five NSRCs will be selected based on peer review, and eligible to lead applications for awards of up to three years. DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, which is funding the effort, envisions awards both for single NSRCs and NSRCs working in partnerships or teams.

Improved Performance Planning Could Strengthen Technology Transfer

A Department of Energy national lab developed a battery that now powers some hybrid and electric cars. But how do new energy technologies get from the lab to the market?
Transferring technologies from the DOE to private companies isn't always easy. Barriers such as the "valley of death"—a gap between the end of public funding and the start of private funding—can stop a transfer.
The Department of Energy (DOE) and its national labs have taken several steps to address potential barriers to technology transfer—the process of providing DOE technologies, knowledge, or expertise to other entities. GAO characterized these barriers as (1) gaps in funding, (2) legal and administrative barriers, and (3) lack of alignment between DOE research and industry needs. For example, the “valley of death” is a gap between the end of public funding and start of private-sector funding. DOE partly addresses this gap with its Technology Commercialization Fund, which provides grants of $100,000 to $1.5 million to DOE researchers to advance promising technologies with private-sector partners. Further, DOE's Energy I-Corps program trains researchers to commercialize new technologies and to identify industry needs and potential customers. However, DOE has not assessed how many and which types of researchers would benefit from such training. Without doing so, DOE will not have the information needed to ensure its training resources target the researchers who would benefit most.
DOE plans and tracks the performance of its technology transfer activities by setting strategic goals and objectives and annually collecting department-wide technology transfer measures, such as the number of patented inventions and licenses. However, the department does not have objective and measurable performance goals to assess progress toward the broader strategic goals and objectives it developed. For example, without a performance goal for the number of DOE researchers involved in technology transfer activities and a measure of such involvement, DOE cannot assess the extent to which it has met its objective to encourage national laboratory personnel to pursue technology transfer activities. Internal control standards for government agencies call for management to define objectives in measurable terms, either qualitative or quantitative, so that performance toward those objectives can be assessed. Moreover, DOE has not aligned the 79 existing measures that it collects with its goals and objectives, nor has it prioritized them. Some lab stakeholders said that collecting and reporting these measures is burdensome. Prior GAO work has found that having a large number of performance measures may risk creating a confusing excess of data that will obscure rather than clarify performance issues.