IonQ CEO Peter Chapman, left, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, right, cut a ribbon during an IonQ event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

IonQ CEO Peter Chapman, left, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, right, cut a ribbon during an IonQ event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Nation’s first quantum computing manufacturing plant opens in Bothell

IonQ, a Maryland-based firm, expects to add hundreds of jobs and invest $1 billion in the region over the next 10 years.

BOTHELL — Is Snohomish County, or at least the Seattle area, poised to become the nation’s quantum computing center?

At a ribbon cutting Thursday for IonQ’s new research, development and manufacturing facility in Bothell, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and others said demand for the super-speedy computers is growing every day, creating the potential to generate thousands of new jobs.

“Our region is already known worldwide for innovation and leadership. So it should come as no surprise that we are becoming Quantum Valley, if you will, for the United States,” Cantwell told a gathering of policymakers, university officials and more than 50 IonQ employees.

IonQ’s regional neighbors include the University of Washington’s Quantum X, one of the largest quantum computing centers and the recipient of $170 million in research grants, as well as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and its Quantum Information Sciences division, said Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

The IonQ research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The IonQ research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

With the christening of the 105,000-square-foot facility at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell, the Maryland-based IonQ becomes the first company to open a quantum computing manufacturing facility in the nation, the company’s president and CEO Peter Chapman said.

The publicly-traded company is developing quantum computing systems for commercial use.

Experts say quantum computing could become an $850 billion industry in the next 15 years.

A year ago, IonQ employed a handful of people, Chapman told the group. Now the head count is 80 with plans to hire several hundred more people in the next few years, he said.

IonQ invested about $20 million to renovate the former AT&T data center.

“It had great bones,” Chapman said. “But it needed a lot of work.”

Now the company is eyeing the building next door for expansion, Chapman said.

IonQ CEO Peter Chapman speaks during an IonQ ribbon cutting event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

IonQ CEO Peter Chapman speaks during an IonQ ribbon cutting event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Economic Alliance Snohomish County helped IonQ secure a $200,000 Evergreen Manufacturing Growth Grant from the state Department of Commerce for building improvements, said Wendy Poischbeg, the Economic Alliance’s vice president of economic development.

Chapman said the company will invest $80 million in the region this year, and a projected $1 billion over the next 10 years.

While the technology around quantum computing is still being developed, researchers say they’re getting closer to commercializing the super fast computers that can perform calculations “158 million times faster,” than existing supercomputers. As a result, they can “accomplish in four minutes what it would take a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years to complete,” according to Techopedia.com

The time or memory needed to arrive at solutions can overwhelm today’s computers,“which must guess-and-check every possible combination (which could take billions of years) or else resort to imperfect and expensive approximations,” IonQ said.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, don’t have to try every combination.

Instead, they use a system based on quantum mechanics — the complex math that describes how atoms and other tiny particles behave and interact. The result is a faster and more powerful computing system that has the potential to tackle problems related to drug development, food production and cleaner energy sources.

But bugs still need to be worked out.

“One of the downsides of quantum computers is that they are extremely error-prone. Consequently, companies are investing a lot of talent and money into trying to come up with ways to build computers that can identify their own mistakes and correct them,” according to Techopedia.com

People mingle during an IonQ ribbon cutting event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

People mingle during an IonQ ribbon cutting event at their research and manufacturing facility on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Physicist Christopher Monroe and computer scientist Jungsang Kim cofounded IonQ in 2015 to commercialize quantum computers.

Dave Mehuys, the company’s president of product engineering, oversaw the build out of the new Bothell facility.

Leading a group of visitors through the new wing, Mehuys picked up a small container, known as the ion trap. The size of a matchbox, it forms the heart of the quantum computer, which is housed in a casing the size of a garden shed.

Just as early computers got smaller — they were originally the size of boxcars — quantum computers are expected to shrink as technology advances, Mehuys said.

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