$15 Million Initiative Launched to Improve Supercomputer Education for South Carolina Students

A state-funded program aimed at training South Carolina college students on a quantum supercomputer for future high-tech jobs will begin in January.

The South Carolina Quantum Association, a newly formed nonprofit, will connect students and professors with companies that require the unique capabilities of a quantum computer, according to Joe Queenan, the organizer of the group.

Funded through a $15 million earmark in the state budget, the association will use the initial funding to provide quantum consultants who will coach students through spring 2025. The program will start at the University of South Carolina and expand to other colleges. Additionally, the funds will be used to rent time on a quantum computer located at the University of Maryland, which will be accessed through a web portal in the association’s office in Columbia’s Five Points.

Due to the newness of the technology, there are limited experts in the field. The goal of the South Carolina Quantum Association is to train students to become specialists in quantum computing before they graduate.

The hope is that South Carolina’s concentration of quantum computing experts will attract more companies to the state, taking advantage of the trained workforce coming out of public and private universities.

“If we can train a generation with the necessary skills, they will be in high demand globally and offered great salaries,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian.

Harpootlian lobbied for state funding to ensure that the technology and its complex computing capabilities are widely available through college and workforce training programs.

While traditional computers operate using a binary system of 1s and 0s, quantum computing is multidimensional. Quantum computers can solve complex calculations involving large amounts of data in minutes, compared to the years it would take a standard computer.

Some potential applications for quantum computing include the development of new pharmaceuticals and batteries. Banks are also utilizing the technology to prevent cyber theft, reduce risky lending, and comply with new regulations emerging after the Great Recession.

In order to develop new drugs or materials, scientists typically rely on trial and error. However, a quantum computer could simulate complex interactions between subatomic particles, expediting the process.

Silicon Valley’s Mercedes-Benz is partnering with IBM to study how sulphur molecules behave in different environments, with the aim of replacing lithium-ion batteries. Boeing has also contributed $3.5 million to a Chicago-based quantum group to research quantum-enabled sensors.

Since 2019, Congress has allocated at least $3.7 billion for quantum research hubs across the country.

The SC Quantum Association, led by the same entrepreneurial leaders behind Columbia’s GrowCo organization, aims to position South Carolina alongside established quantum clusters in cities such as Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Boulder, Colorado. The organization also hopes to attract additional federal funding through the state’s contribution.

Although these cities may be ahead in terms of research funds, Joe Queenan believes South Carolina can distinguish itself by starting early in the field of quantum computing.

“It’s still a competition, but it will require highly skilled workers,” he said.

The rapid development of quantum technology has created a demand for experts in the field that surpasses the current availability of talent. The South Carolina Quantum Association aims to fill this gap by training South Carolinians.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian wants to reverse the trend of talented individuals leaving the state and transform South Carolina into a technological hub.

Last year, Harpootlian secured a $25 million earmark in the budget to purchase a quantum computer, but the spending was vetoed by Gov. Henry McMaster. However, the option to rent time on a quantum computer was not vetoed.

Future phases of the initiative include the development of a quantum computing specialty degree program that can be replicated by colleges across the state. The program will also be offered at a historically Black college in South Carolina. Furthermore, the association plans to launch an online training academy for individuals seeking to transition into high-tech careers.

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