Manish Singh pushes the boundaries of quantum network development

A graduate of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at The University of Chicago, Singh is driving impact through his startup company, memQ

Manish Singh, PhD’22, was one of the first students in the country to receive a doctoral degree in quantum engineering. He currently pushes the boundaries of quantum network development through his startup memQ.

But the quantum world was not top of mind when he first visited the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago in 2016.

“I saw myself primarily as a chemical engineer, so I wasn't sure exactly what role I could play,” Singh said.

Singh’s path from chemical to quantum engineering, from the private sector to research to entrepreneurship, from India to Taiwan to Chicago has been a journey. But the conversations he had with PME faculty on that visit in 2016 changed the trajectory of his career and his life.

“Having the chance to speak with people – having the chance to dispel my own fears – was really helpful. It confirmed that at PME you can pick a project that doesn't need to be defined in a particular silo,” he said. “That's very interdisciplinary.”

Using Singh’s doctoral research at PME as a starting point, memQ is working to develop commercially viable on-chip, scalable quantum memory that are compatible with current semiconductor technology. It was not the route Singh initially planned.

“When I finished my undergrad, the only thing I knew for sure was that I did not want to do a PhD,” he said, chuckling.

A ‘take charge’ mentality

Although a PhD wasn’t his initial plan, after a few years working in the microchip industry, he came to realize how a terminal degree could advance his work and career. He began emailing professors at PhD programs around the world to ask for insight.

“The idea was to do a PhD in a field that aligns closely with what I already know, then come back to the industry on a fairly short cycle,” Singh said.

That is how he first met Prof. Supratik Guha. Based on the strength of their conversation, Singh visited PME in Chicago. When Guha had a conflict and couldn’t make a planned meeting, Guha asked Prof. David Awschalom to meet with the promising student.

That conversation, Singh said, sparked his interest in the quantum world.

“Manish has impressed me as someone who’s comfortable marching to a different drumbeat and off the beaten path,” Guha said. “After graduating from IIT-Kanpur, one of India’s premier engineering schools, he chose to live and work in Taiwan for four years, learning Chinese and working for a Taiwanese chip company (TSMC); then he decided to change course to do a PhD in a seemingly different area – quantum technologies; and then he graduated and decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur and turn his PhD research into a product.”

Guha became Singh’s PhD advisor at PME. After Singh graduated in 2022, Guha went on to co-found memQ with his former student and sits on the startup’s board.

“He was my first graduate student here,” said Guha, who at that time had recently moved from the private sector to a joint appointment with PME and Argonne National Laboratory. “I am fortunate that I got to work with him and his ‘take charge’ mentality.”

‘More important than anything else’

That “take charge” mentality – and recent lab breakthroughs on the compatibility of titanium dioxide with qubit dynamics – led Singh to turn his PhD dissertation into a company. memQ’s goal is a quantum system on a chip, bringing together the dozens of components required for unhackable, high-speed quantum computing into a single microchip.

Duality, the nation’s first accelerator focused exclusively on supporting quantum science and technology companies, which is part of the University of Chicago, selected memQ for its second cohort. The accelerator is led by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Chicago Quantum Exchange, further cementing his ties with the UChicago and PME communities.

memQ also participated in the Polsky Center’s Compass deep tech accelerator and in 2022 was selected to receive the George Shultz Innovation Fund award, which invests in early stage tech ventures. That same year, memQ received the Department of Energy's two-year Chain Reaction Innovation Fellowship, providing critical continuing support.

Singh said the PME’s community provided him more than just opportunities. It also has provided many lasting friendships, and support when he moved half a planet away to study a field he never anticipated.

“Entering as an international student, you don't have family ties within 2,000 miles. The community you’re living in, what the culture is like, becomes really important. This, I think, was more important than anything else,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a warmer community than the one I found at Pritzker Molecular Engineering.”

Explore the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering's PhD programs