UChicago Researchers & South Side Teachers Work Together to Engage Students in Quantum Technology
(U.Chicago.edu) The TeachQuantum pilot launched in June of 2021. Tian Zhong, a quantum researcher and assistant professor at Pritzker Molecular Engineering saw the need for such a program early on. He realized that while there’s a rapidly growing need for quantum-trained researchers and workers, the field is young and not yet part of most students’ pre-college learning. Zhong explained, “We’re making exponential progress toward real-world applications of the technology, but we have a huge gap in training students who will become the workforce for this industry.”
Zhong’s solution sprouted in 2019, when he had the idea for TeachQuantum, a program that immerses high school teachers in quantum research labs and prepares them to teach quantum-focused STEM concepts in their classrooms. The new program connects to a broader effort at UChicago to ensure South Side educators and students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to take part in the quantum revolution.
He developed the idea further as part of the National Science Foundation’s Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN), a UChicago partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison and led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)—all three of which are key institutions in an emerging Midwestern “quantum corridor” like California’s Silicon Valley.
Participating teachers took part in a six-week summer research and mentoring experience in PME labs, developed new quantum-inspired activities to implement in their classrooms, and will meet quarterly throughout the school year to share their outcomes and best practices. They received a stipend for participating, plus funding to create teaching modules.
The TeachQuantum pilot launched in June of 2021. TeachQuantum pilot focused on teachers from South Side schools that serve mostly students of color in Kenwood, Woodlawn, Hyde Park, Englewood and South Chicago. Students are 79% Black and 20% Latinx; 86% of them live in low-income households
Davenport, a physics and chemistry teacher and chair of the science department at James H. Bowen High School in South Chicago, is one of four South Side high school teachers collaborating with UChicago quantum researchers to teach students quantum concepts early. Working in Zhong’s lab and brainstorming with the other members of the cohort, Davenport built an engaging game that shows students how quantum encryption can transmit messages securely without danger of being hacked. “Every kid wants to send secret messages, right?” he said. “When they do it in this game, I can say, ‘Hey, you just did quantum physics! Kudos to you!’ They can use simple cryptography outside the classroom, too, and the second you get them doing that, they’re hooked.”
“The TeachQuantum initiative exemplifies the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering’s commitment to educating the next generation of quantum engineers,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of PME. “Through this program, we aim to increase interest in and exposure to not only quantum, but also STEM fields more broadly, and to introduce and welcome those traditionally underrepresented in the sciences to new and exciting educational and career opportunities.”