Chicago State University students gain quantum experience through HQAN summer internships

profile photos of Anosh Wasker, Dominique Newell, Gabrielle Jones-Hall, and Ryan Stempek

This story was adapted from one originally published by HQAN

Over the past summer, the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN) offered a 12-week “Research Experiences for CSU Students” internship opportunity that provided students and recent graduates from Chicago State University (CSU) with virtual research experiences addressing quantum science topics. In an August 20 online poster session, students presented the results of their summer projects to HQAN’s university and industry partners.

Mallory Conlon, HQAN’s outreach program coordinator and the quantum science outreach program coordinator with the UW–Madison department of physics, explained that this year’s program was the pilot offering. “We wanted to make sure we had the support and activity structures right before expanding this to more [minority serving institutions] (MSIs) and other underrepresented groups across the Midwest. We’re currently evaluating the program and aim to develop an expanded internship for summer 2022.” For the pilot, CSU was chosen as the sole participating MSI because of its proximity to the University of Chicago (one of HQAN’s three university partners), and because of HQAN staff connections to CSU.

The posters presented on August 20 included Anosh Wasker’s “Quantum Games for Pedagogy” (advised by Russell Ceballos of the Chicago Quantum Exchange); Dominique Newell’s “Super-Resolution Microscopy Using Nitrogen Vacancy Centers in Diamond to Analyze the Optical Near Field Diffraction Limit” (advised by Shimon Kolkowitz of the University of Wisconsin–Madison); Gabrielle Jones-Hall’s “Demonstrating Entanglement” (advised by Paul Kwiat of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)); and Ryan Stempek’s “Quantum vs. Classical Boltzmann Machines for Learning a Quantum Circuit” (advised by Bryan Clark of UIUC).

Wasker is pursuing a Master’s at CSU; his long-term goals are to go for a PhD and then work in industry. Over the summer, he developed an air-hockey-inspired computer game that teaches players some of the counterintuitive concepts involved in quantum—particularly the Hong-Ou-Mandel (HOM) effect. He says he’s passionate about quantum science and has noticed that many opportunities are coming up in the field, but that it’s difficult for people to find “access points” into learning about this intimidating topic so that they can seize those opportunities. His summer project was inspired by his belief that learning through play is a powerful way to gain understanding.

Newell recently graduated from CSU with a BS in physics, with a minor in chemistry. She spent the summer studying the propagation of light through a laser beam that travels through a nitrogen vacancy center in diamond, as observed through a confocal microscope. The goal was to locate the zero intensity points above and below the focal plane of a Gaussian beam by using its own electromagnetic field.

Jones-Hall is now in graduate school at Mississippi Valley State University. She’s working towards a Master’s in Bioinformatics but plans to return to quantum after completing that degree, so her internship project—which worked on developing a quantum-themed escape room designed to teach players the concept of quantum entanglement—will be relevant to her later work.

Stempek will graduate in December with a Master’s in computer science and then work in industry. His summer project aimed to show that a quantum Restricted Boltzmann Machine (Q-RBM) has the potential to learn the probability distribution over a set of inputs more accurately than a classical RBM (C-RBM) can for the same circuit. He says the internship was a great opportunity for him to further build his Python skills and problem-solve through the ups and downs of research. “[It] was really beneficial,” he says, “and actually, moving into industry, I feel that I’ll have a greater sense of self-confidence… It was a great experience!”

HQAN is a partnership among the University of Chicago, UIUC, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The Wonders of Physics ready to hit the road

The Wonders of Physics traveling show is back! After a five-year hiatus, the department is pleased to announce that we have hired a full-time outreach specialist and restarted the program.

profile photo of Haddie McLean
Haddie McLean

Haddie McLean, a former meteorologist with WISC-TV / Channel 3 in Madison, began her new role as the Wonders of Physics outreach coordinator on August 9. After a 21-year TV career, McLean says she was looking for a new challenge — and any job that didn’t require her to wake up at 2am was just a bonus.

“I love talking to people about science. And I love seeing kids’ faces light up when they understand a topic or when they learn something new,” McLean says. “I was able to do a little bit of that in my job in TV. But in this position, I’ll get to do a ton more, and that’s what drew me to it.”

McLean’s primary role with The Wonders of Physics will be to further develop and perform the traveling show. She will also play a lead role in the development and performance of the annual shows in February, as well as participating in science outreach events and connecting with Wisconsin science teachers.

The Wonders of Physics traveling show started in the late 1980s as an offshoot of The Wonders of Physics annual shows, which first ran in 1983. Two graduate students at the time, David Newman and Christopher Watts, approached Prof. Clint Sprott — the creator of The Wonders of Physics — and suggested that they take the show on the road.

Over the years, The Wonders of Physics traveling show has gone from an all-volunteer, graduate student-led effort to one that has employed part- or full-time outreach specialists. Past funding has been provided by NSF and DOE. Now, thanks to the support of generous donors — including a successful Day of the Badger fundraising campaign — the department expects that the traveling show will be run by a full-time staff member for years to come.

“I’d like to make this show accessible to all ages, all walks of life,” McLean says. “I’d like to hit all areas of the state, if possible, and bring the university to the kids that wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to experience all that our campus has to offer.”

McLean is already busy prepping the show and hopes to be in schools by late fall 2021 (if university and school district COVID-19 policies permit it). She expects to have a general show available that is as hands-on and interactive as possible. She also plans to make the show customizable as needed, where she can work with teachers to focus the performance on the specific areas of physics that they are teaching at the time.

“My hope for the traveling show is that it’s fun and engaging, gets kids excited, and helps spark an interest in the next generation of scientists,” McLean says.

Sprott, now an emeritus professor with the department who still stars in the annual shows each February, is enthusiastic that McLean will be involved in those shows and that she is reviving the traveling show.

“After several difficult years, I’m delighted that Haddie McLean has joined us to head the Department’s nearly 40-year tradition of physics outreach and public education for people of all ages throughout Wisconsin and beyond,” Sprott says.

Anyone interested in scheduling The Wonders of Physics traveling show can email or visit for more information.

The shows are free of charge, but donations are encouraged.

Related: See the winning entries from The Wonders of Physics 2021 video contest!


Physics grad students share hands-on physics, art lessons with local fifth graders

the 4 kits sent home with the students are laid out and opened up, revealing contents like worksheets, laser pointers, mirrors, and lenses
The at-home physics kits featured lessons on light, such as how it functions as both a particle and a wave, and how light changes as it passes through a prism. PHOTO: AEDAN GARDILL

UW–Madison physics grad student Aedan Gardill has been illustrating physics concepts with art for years, such as through his Instagram account, where he shares ink drawings. Earlier this year, he applied for a grant from the Madison Arts Commission to create hidden portraits of women in the physical sciences that could only be revealed by using polarized lenses. He also planned to visit local schools to explain the concept behind his art and help students make their own images based on his technique.

By the time Gardill learned he had been awarded the grant, the pandemic was in full force, and his plans had to change. While he could still present his portraits at the Wisconsin Science Festival, school visits were no longer in the cards.

“With the realization this summer that school was going to most likely be online in the fall, I had to rethink how I was going to use the funding from the grant,” Gardill explains. “And that has morphed into providing at-home, hands-on learning experiences that we’ll lead virtually.”

Hear more from Aedan and a Henderson Elementary School teacher and student he worked with, by reading the full story

Funding for Gardill’s work is provided by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Optical Society of America, the International Society for Optics and Photonics, and the UW­–Madison Department of Physics, with special thanks to Arts + Literature Laboratory. UW–Madison physics graduate student volunteers include Abby Bishop, Praful Gagrani, Jimena Gonzalez, Ben Harpt, Preston Huft, Brent Mode, Bryan Rubio Perez, Susan Sorensen, and Jessie Thwaites.