American Family Insurance and UW–Madison: Queuing up quantum computing research

a magnification of a superconducting chip
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A superconducting qubit from the lab of Robert McDermott 

As the field of quantum computing grows, American Family Insurance and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Quantum Institute (WQI) keep pace, announcing plans to work together in partnership to expand quantum computing research at UW.

American Family’s new relationship with WQI is part of the company’s ongoing partnership with UW–Madison supporting students, academic programs, research, athletics and charitable activities. This endeavor will help to attract top graduate students to UW–Madison and will fund a campus seminar series that brings leaders in the field to Madison. In turn, WQI researchers will collaborate with American Family researchers.

Mark Saffman. WQI Director

“We’re in this exciting era where the field of quantum computing is exploding,” says Mark Saffman, WQI Director. “But quantum computing research has been active in Madison for a long time, since about the year 2000, and has grown organically since then due to the interests of top physicists we’ve hired, to the point where quantum computing has now established itself as one of the department’s strongest research areas.

 American Family Insurance is not just an insurance company, it’s investing in emerging technologies. The company recently announced the investment of $20 million in UW data science initiatives, including $10 million in research over the next 10 years – through 2029 – and establishing a $10 million endowment to create the American Family Insurance Data Science Institute at UW–Madison. American Family is also funding other UW–Madison research, such as self-driving vehicles.

“American Family Insurance knows we have to learn and adapt to be ahead of the changes that are coming,” says Glenn Fung, chief research scientist in machine learning and director of data science research at American Family Insurance.

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A scanning electron microscope image of a gate-defined double quantum dot qubit

“Quantum computing is a game-changer, and it’s exactly the kind of technology we’re investing in,” says Peter Gunder, American Family’s chief business development officer. “This technology can spur the development of new breakthroughs in science and machine learning, to improve not only how we do business but to profoundly change how we all live.”

WQI will use the funds to support new initiatives including a seminar series on quantum computing, allowing WQI members to invite prominent researchers in the field to campus. The funds will also provide fellowships to quantum computing graduate students – both to offer as an internal competition for current graduate students and to attract new students to programs here.

Fung says the collaboration is intended to develop a flow of communication between American Family and WQI. WQI researchers will convene at American Family’s headquarters throughout the year to introduce quantum computing and its potential applications.

“American Family is a forward-looking insurance company,” Saffman says. “They don’t do quantum computing today, but they see it possibly as part of their future, and that’s why they’re extending their partnership with UW to include WQI.”