Duke researchers have received a $15 million go-ahead to build the world’s first practical quantum computer.

The seven-university collaboration, called the Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design project and funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to use the rules of quantum physics to create a fundamentally different way of solving impossibly complex problems. 

It is NSF’s largest quantum computing effort in the science agency’s 68-year history, according to a release from the Pratt School of Engineering.

“Developing the first practical quantum computer would be a major milestone,” NSF Director France Córdova said in a news release. “By bringing together experts who have outlined a path to a practical quantum computer and supporting its development, NSF is working to take the quantum revolution from theory to reality.”

The project is led by two Pratt researchers in the electrical and computer engineering department—Associate Professor Kenneth Brown and Professor Jungsang Kim. They will lead a team of researchers from six other universities to create a quantum computer capable of performing a “challenging calculation.”

While conventional computers use ones and zeroes to represent numbers, quantum computers exploit the unusual rules of quantum physics to create “qubits,” which can be simultaneously one and zero, making each bit twice as powerful. Assembled together, these qubits can create a machine that is exponentially more efficient than current technologies.

A qubit can take many forms; the latest development, a 72-qubit computer by Google, uses superconducting circuits, as do the machines of Intel and IBM. The Duke-led team will use ultra-cold ions trapped in electromagnetic fields to build its computer—the same strategy used by IonQ, the quantum computing startup co-founded by Kim.

“There are several efforts under way [by these companies], but a practical quantum computer still remains elusive,” Kim wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The STAQ project—whose members include professors from the University of Chicago, the University of Maryland, the University of New Mexico, the University of California, Berkeley, Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—was conceived as an NSF Ideas Lab, according to the news release. Like a researchers’ “hackathon,” the event brings together a group of experts and gives them a week to draft a proposal—many of which are funded for millions of dollars.

According to STAQ’s grant proposal, the project will also create a “Quantum Ideas School,” which will recruit and train a “diverse group of students” in the field of quantum information science.

“[This project is] providing me the opportunity to work with other well-known researchers in the field who I’ve always wanted to collaborate with,” Brown said in a Pratt news release. “Having everyone together under one umbrella is truly exciting.”