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‘One of those transformational investments’: $15M brings quantum computing to SC

Courtesy of Live 5 WCSC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) – The next technology that has the potential to transform industries from healthcare to finance to manufacturing is one with which many South Carolinians might not be familiar.

It’s called quantum computing, and thanks to a significant investment from the state legislature, it has already arrived in the Palmetto State.

In the current state budget, $15 million was allocated to bring access to quantum computing to South Carolina, the state’s largest investment ever in a tech initiative.

“The quantum technology is the technology of the future, and we at South Carolina shouldn’t be lagging behind. We can be on the cutting edge of that,” Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D – Richland and the legislator who advocated for the money in the budget, said.

Right from their laptops, students at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business can tap into a web portal to access a quantum computer many miles away.

They use it to solve complex problems, like how to build a financial portfolio that will make the most money with the least risk.

“If we were to do it classically [on a regular computer], it would take hundreds, if not thousands of years sometimes, when a quantum computer would take minutes,” senior Jordan Fowler said.

Fowler is part the first team of students in South Carolina to have this access, thanks to the $15 million the legislature spent to get the program started.

Harpootlian pushed for it multiple times in the budget. Two years ago, he requested a $25 million earmark for the state to purchase its own quantum computer, but Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed that allocation, and the General Assembly sustained the governor’s cut.

Last year, Harpootlian adjusted his request to $15 million, which would cover the cost to rent time on quantum computers elsewhere across the country, accessible through a web portal.

That time, the governor kept the request to fund the program, which is overseen by the newly formed South Carolina Quantum Association.

“This is one of those transformational investments,” South Carolina Quantum Association Executive Director Joe Queenan said.

Queenan said the key component of this investment is education, training students throughout the state in this emerging technology.

“We want to utilize the technology to help, one, prepare our students for the future, and then two, help them get jobs using it,” Brandon Mendez, a clinical assistant professor of finance at USC, said.

And they want to keep those students in South Carolina after they graduate to contribute the skills they learned to the state’s economy and workforce.

“What other schools do really well, is they have all these resources already there,” Fowler said. “So students come in, and then they’re developed really well over the years with the top-tier talent and the top-tier resources and technology, and if we can do that same thing here in this state, I don’t know why anyone would want to leave.”

Fowler and his teammates recently competed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s annual quantum hackathon, placing third overall after only gaining access to quantum computing last fall.

They and the future students trained under this new program could potentially start their own companies in South Carolina after they graduate, or it encourages more companies to move and grow in the state to tap into that burgeoning network of experts.

“We ought to do whatever we can to make sure that technology stays here and, again, that the best and the brightest stay here in South Carolina,” Harpootlian said.

Queenan said the program is currently in its “execution phase” but plans to pursue federal grants down the road to build upon the money it received from the state to get started.

“In a perfect world, 20 years from now, this is a regional center of excellence, and it burst out of this investment the state made in this past year,” he said.

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.