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Collaboration between NSF quantum centers finds path to fault tolerance in neutral atom qubits

Like the classical computers we use every day, quantum computers can make mistakes when manipulating and storing the quantum bits (qubits) used to perform quantum algorithms. Theoretically, a quantum error correction protocol can correct these errors in a similar manner to classical error correction. However, quantum error correction is more demanding than its classical counterpart and has yet to be fully demonstrated, putting a limit on the functionality of quantum computers.

In a theory paper published in Nature Communications, UW–Madison physicist Shimon Kolkowitz and colleagues show a new way that quantum errors could be identified in one type of qubit known as neutral atoms. By pinpointing which qubit experienced an error, the study suggests that the requirements on quantum error correction can be significantly relaxed, approaching a level that neutral atom quantum computers have already achieved.

profile photo of Shimon Kolkowitz
Shimon Kolkowitz

The study is a collaboration between two National Science Foundation Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes, Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN) and Robust Quantum Simulation (RQS). UW–Madison is a member of HQAN.

“In quantum computing, a lot of the overhead in an error-correcting code is figuring out which qubit had the error. If I know which qubit it is, then the amount of redundancy needed for the code is reduced,” Kolkowitz says. “Neutral atom qubits are right on the edge of what you would call this fault-tolerant threshold, but no one has been able to fully realize it yet.”

Neutral atom qubits are made up of single atoms trapped with light. The logical gates between the atoms are performed by exciting the atoms to “Rydberg” states where the atom’s electron is excited far beyond its normal location. This quantum computing technique was first pioneered and experimentally demonstrated at UW­–Madison by physics professors Mark Saffman and Thad Walker.

Currently, one error-corrected “logical” qubit is expected to require around 1000 physical qubits, exceeding the maximum number of qubits anyone has managed to wire together in any quantum computing system. Researchers have been studying different elements in Rydberg form as qubits for decades, gradually increasing their performance but not yet reaching the level required for error correction.

a cartoon schematic of the experimental setup
Schematic of a neutral atom quantum computer, where the physical qubits are individual 171Yb atoms.

Knowing that eliminating qubit errors is not practical, Kolkowitz and colleagues instead asked if there might be a way to convert the errors into a type known as erasure errors. Named for the fact that the qubit has effectively vanished, or been erased, erasure errors can be beneficial because it is much easier to tell if a qubit is missing than if it is in the correct state or not.

They investigated the largely unstudied (in this context) element ytterbium because it has a relatively simple outer electron structure and its nucleus can only exist in two quantum spin states, +1/2 and -1/2. When manipulated into a metastable electronic state — a temporary state different than the true ground state — the qubit states are then set by the nuclear +1/2 and -1/2 spin states, and the quantum gates involve coupling one of these two qubit states to the Rydberg state.

“We knew that if an atom falls out of the metastable electronic state to the true ground state, we can detect that with a laser and still not screw up any of the other qubits at all,” Kolkowitz says. “But what that means is if I can set up a situation where errors manifest themselves as falling down into the ground state, I can just shine this laser and constantly check for errors and identify the qubit it happened in.”

In their first calculations using this metastable ytterbium platform, they showed that though errors still occur in the qubits as expected, around 98% of them would be converted to the detectable erasure errors.

But is that 98% error conversion rate good enough for a quantum computer in practice? The answer depends on the error threshold, a value that differs depending on the gates and qubits being used. The researchers next ran simulations of different numbers of quantum gates with a 98% erasure error conversion rate, or no conversion to erasure errors at all (as is currently standard).

a plot with detected error fraction on the x axis and threshold error rate on the y axis. the resultant line starts near 0, 0 (really 0, 0,01) and curves up to 1.0, 0.05
With no error correction, the error threshold is just under 1%. But with 98% erasure conversion (green star), the threshold increases 4.4-fold to just over 4%.

Without erasure error conversion, the error threshold is just shy of 1%, meaning each quantum gate would have to operate at over a 99% success probability to be fault tolerant. With erasure error conversion, however, the error threshold increases 4.4-fold, to just over 4%. And, for example, Saffman’s group has already demonstrated better than 4% error rates in neutral atom qubits.

The higher error threshold also means that there can be a higher ratio of logical qubits to physics qubits. Instead of one logical qubit per 1000 physical qubits, there could be around ten.

“And that’s the point of this work,” Kolkowitz says. “We show that if you can do this erasure conversion, it relaxes the requirements on both the error rates and on the number of atoms that you need.”

Co-author Jeff Thompson, an RQS investigator at Princeton, is already working to demonstrate these results experimentally in his lab. While other elements have been used in neutral atom quantum computing experiments before, until recently ytterbium was largely an unknown. Thompson’s group did much of the preliminary work to characterize the element and show that it could work well as the building block for a quantum computer.

“There were many open questions about ytterbium, and I’d say a lot of people who were using other elements are now moving into ytterbium based on Jeff’s groundwork,” Kolkowitz says. “And I expect that this study will accelerate that trend.”

Yue Wu and Shruti Puri at Yale University collaborated on this study. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation QLCI grants OMA-2120757 and OMA-2016136. Kolkowitz’s part of the work was additionally supported by ARO W911NF-21-1-0012.

Margaret Fortman awarded Google quantum computing fellowship

This post was adapted from a story posted by the UW–Madison Graduate School

Two UW–Madison graduate students, including physics grad student Margaret Fortman, have been awarded 2022 Google Fellowships to pursue cutting-edge research. Fortman received the 2022 Google Fellowship in Quantum Computing, one of only four awarded.

profile picture of Margaret Fortman
Margaret Fortman

Google created the PhD Fellowship Program to recognize outstanding graduate students doing exceptional and innovative research in areas relevant to computer science and related fields. The fellowship attracts highly competitive applicants from around the world.

“These awards have been presented to exemplary PhD students in computer science and related fields,” Google said in its announcement. “We have given these students unique fellowships to acknowledge their contributions to their areas of specialty and provide funding for their education and research. We look forward to working closely with them as they continue to become leaders in their respective fields.”

The program begins in July when students are connected to a mentor from Google Research. The fellowship covers full tuition, fees, and a stipend for the academic year. Fellows are also encouraged to attend Google’s annual Global Fellowship Summit in the summer.

Fortman works to diagnose noise interference in quantum bits

Fortman, whose PhD research in Victor Brar’s group specializes in quantum computing, will use the fellowship support to develop a diagnostic tool to probe the source of noise in superconducting quantum bits, or qubits.

Quantum computing has the potential to solve problems that are difficult for standard computers, Fortman said, but the field has challenges to solve first.

“The leading candidate we have for making a quantum computer right now is superconducting qubits,” Fortman said. “But those are currently facing unavoidable noise that we get in those devices, which can actually come from the qubit material itself.”

Fortman works with a low-temperature ultra-high vacuum scanning tunneling microscope on the UW–Madison campus to develop a microscopic understanding of the origins of noise in qubits. She fabricates superconductors to examine under the microscope to identify the source of the noise, and hopefully be able to develop a solution for that interference.

In her time as a graduate student at UW–Madison, Fortman said she has enjoyed collaborating with colleagues in her lab and across campus.

“It’s pretty cool to be somewhere where world-renowned research is happening and to be involved with that,” she said. “My PI and I work in collaborations with other PIs at the university and they’re all doing very important research, and so it’s really cool to be a part of that.”

Fortman is excited to have a mentor at Google through the PhD Fellowship, having been paired with someone who has a similar disciplinary background and who is a research scientist with Google Quantum AI.

“He can be a resource in debugging some parts of my project, as well as general mentorship and advice on being a PhD student, and advice for future career goals,” Fortman said.

The second UW–Madison student who earned this honor is computer sciences PhD student Shashank Rajput, who received the 2022 Google Fellowship in Machine Learning.

The future of particle physics is also written from the South Pole

This post was originally published by the IceCube collaboration. Several UW–Madison physicists are part of the collaboration and are featured in this story

A month ago, the Seattle Community Summer Study Workshop—July 17-26, 2022, at the University of Washington—brought together over a thousand scientists in one of the final steps of the Particle Physics Community Planning Exercise. The meetings and accompanying white papers put the cherry on top of a period of collaborative work setting a vision for the future of particle physics in the U.S. and abroad. Later this year, the final report identifying research priorities in this field will be presented. Its main purpose is to advise the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation on research for their agendas during the next decade.

As new and old detectors once again prepare to expand the frontiers of knowledge, we asked some IceCube collaborators about the role the South Pole neutrino observatory should play in the bright future that lies ahead for particle physics.

Q: What type of neutrinos are currently detected in IceCube? And will that change with the future extensions?

The vast majority of the neutrinos we detect are generated in the atmosphere by cosmic rays, but we also have on the order of 1,000 cosmic neutrinos at energies above 10 TeV. We use the atmospheric neutrinos for a wide range of science, first of all to study the neutrinos themselves.

IceCube has detected more than a million neutrinos to date. That’s already a big number for neutrino scientists, and we will detect even more in the future. The deployment of the IceCube Upgrade, an extension of our facility targeting neutrinos at lower energies, will increase the density of sensors in IceCube’s inner subdetector, DeepCore, by a factor of 10. And a second, larger extension is also in the works. With IceCube-Gen2, we will improve the detection at the highest energies, too: the IceCube volume will increase by almost a factor of 10, and our event rate for high-energy cosmic neutrinos will also grow by an order of magnitude.

Albrecht Karle, IceCube associate director for science and instrumentation and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Q: Are the futures of IceCube and that of particle physics intrinsically linked?

Absolutely! Many open questions in particle physics have neutrinos at the center. What’s their mass? What is the behavior of neutrino flavor mixing? Are there right-handed (sterile) neutrinos? Neutrinos are particularly attractive in the search for new physics. We can answer all these questions, to varying levels, within IceCube and especially moving forward with the IceCube Upgrade and IceCube-Gen2.

Erin O’Sullivan, an associate professor of physics at Uppsala University

IceCube, the Icecube Upgrade, and IceCube-Gen2 can all uniquely contribute to the study of particle physics, in particular, neutrino physics, beyond Standard Model (BSM) physics, and indirect searches of dark matter. The IceCube Upgrade provides complementary and independent measurements of neutrino oscillation in addition to the long-baseline experiments. And IceCube-Gen2 will be crucial to exploring the BSM features, such as sterile neutrinos and secret neutrino interactions, at an energy that cannot be reached by the underground facilities. It will also be a discovery machine for heavy dark matter particles.

Ke Fang, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Q: Talking about discoveries, now that both IceCube and Super-Kamiokande have reported definitive observations of tau neutrinos in atmospheric and astrophysical neutrino data, why should the international particle physics community continue to improve their detection?  

The tau neutrino was discovered at Fermilab in an emulsion experiment where they observed double-bang events with a distance on the order of 1 mm separating production and decay. Since they represent the least studied neutrino and, in fact, one of the least studied particles, improved measurements of tau properties may reveal that the 3×3 matrix is not unitary and expose the first indication of physics beyond the 3-flavor oscillation scenario.

Francis Halzen, IceCube PI and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

We are the only experiment operating currently (and in the foreseeable future) that is able to identify tau neutrinos on an event-by-event basis. We can do so by looking at the distinct morphological features they produce in our data at the highest energies. And with the IceCube Upgrade, we will also be the experiment that collects the most tau neutrinos.  I suspect that these neutrinos will surprise us again and point us towards new physics.

Carlos Argüelles, an assistant professor of physics at Harvard University.  

Four hundred years from now, people may see IceCube the way we see Galileo’s telescope, not as an end but as the beginning of a new branch of science. The astrophysical observation of tau neutrinos is but one piece in a large number of studies that IceCube can conduct, including the study of fundamental physics using astrophysical neutrinos.

Ignacio Taboada, IceCube spokesperson and a professor of physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology

Q: In 2019, the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center joined the Interactions Collaboration, which includes all major particle physics laboratories around the globe. The IceCube letter of introduction to this community detailed some of the most accurate results to date in neutrino physics. What’s unique about IceCube neutrino science?

One unique aspect of IceCube is the breadth of neutrino energy that we can measure, all the way down to the MeV energy scale in the case of a galactic supernova and up to as far as a few PeV neutrinos, which are the highest energy neutrinos ever detected. Therefore, IceCube provides us with different windows to study the neutrino and understand its properties. Especially in the context of searching for new physics, this is important as these processes can manifest at a particular energy scale but not be visible at other energy scales.

Erin O’Sullivan, an associate professor of physics at Uppsala University

Q:  Let’s focus on high-energy neutrinos for a moment. What are the needs for their detection and why is the South Pole ice the perfect place for those searches? 

The highest energy neutrinos can be directly linked to the most powerful accelerators in the universe but also allow us to test the Standard Model at energies inaccessible to current or future planned colliders.

And why the South Pole? Well, what makes the South Pole such an optimal location are the exceptional optical and radio properties of its ice sheet, which is also the largest pool of ice on Earth. Neutrino event rates are very low at these energies and, thus, we need a huge detector to measure them.

Deep-ice Cherenkov optical sensors have already been proven as high-performing detectors for TeV and PeV neutrinos when deployed at depths of 1.4 km and greater below the surface. And radio technology is promising because radio waves can travel much further than optical photons in the ice, plus they work at shallow depths. So, when searching for the highest energy neutrinos using the South Pole ice sheet, radio neutrino detectors might be the only solution that scales up. Radio waves are able to travel further in the South Pole than in Greenland, for example. It’s a gift from nature to have this giant, pure block of ice to catch elusive neutrinos from the most powerful accelerators.

Lu Lu, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Q: And what about the lowest energies? How does IceCube perform there? 

IceCube’s DeepCore detector was especially designed for that: a more dense layout of photodetectors embedded in the center of IceCube and located at about 2 km depth, it uses the surrounding IceCube sensors to eliminate essentially all background from the otherwise dominant cosmic ray muons. This means that DeepCore can now be analyzed as if it was at 10 km depth, deeper than any mine on Earth. In the near future, the IceCube Upgrade will add seven strings of new sensors inside DeepCore, which will hugely increase its precision for neutrino properties.

Albrecht Karle, IceCube associate director for science and instrumentation and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison 

IceCube’s low energies are what all other neutrino experiments would call high energies. This is a regime where the neutrino interactions are well predicted from accelerator experiments, which means that if deviations are found in the data we can claim new physics. Thus, IceCube and the upcoming IceCub Upgrade results are not only going to yield some of the most precise measurements on the neutrino oscillation parameters but also—and more importantly—test the neutrino oscillation framework.

Carlos Argüelles, an assistant professor of physics at Harvard University  

Q: And, last but not least, we should think about the people that will make all this possible. What efforts are underway to diversify who does science and make the field more equitable?

Four years ago, IceCube invited a few collaborations to join efforts to increase equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in multimessenger astrophysics. With support from NSF, this was the birth of the Multimessenger Diversity Network (MDN). This network now includes a dozen participating collaborations, which is an indication of the growing awareness and action to increase DEIA across the field. Set up as a community of practice, where people share their knowledge and experiences with each other, the MDN is a reproducible and scalable model for other fields. We are excited to see this community of practice grow, to contribute with resources and experiences, and to learn from others.

For the first time in an official capacity, DEIA efforts were included in the Snowmass planning process and were also incorporated into the Astro2020 Decadal Survey. One take-away from these processes is that more resources and accountability are needed to speed up DEIA efforts.

Ellen Bechtol, MDN community manager and an outreach specialist at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center

Read more about IceCube and its future contributions to particle physics

  • Snowmass Neutrino Frontier: NF04 Topical Group Report. Neutrinos from natural sources. (Jul 2022)
  • CF7. Cosmic Probes of Fundamental Physics. Topical Group Report (Jul  2022).
  • “High-Energy and Ultra-High-Energy Neutrinos: A Snowmass White Paper”, M.Ackermann et al. arxiv.org/abs/2203.08096
  • “Tau Neutrinos in the Next Decade: from GeV to EeV,” R. S. Abraham et al. arxiv.org/abs/2203.05591
  • “Snowmass White Paper: Beyond the Standard Model effects on Neutrino Flavor,” C. Argüelles et al. arxiv.org/abs/2203.10811
  • “Snowmass 2021 White Paper: Cosmogenic Dark Matter and Exotic Particle Searches in Neutrino Experiments,” J. Berger et al. arxiv.org/abs/2207.02882
  • “White Paper on Light Sterile Neutrino Searches and Related Phenomenology,” M. A. Acero et al, arxiv.org/abs/2203.07323
  • “Ultra-High-Energy Cosmic Rays: The Intersection of the Cosmic and Energy Frontiers,” A. Coleman, arxiv.org/abs/2205.05845
  • “Advancing the Landscape of Multimessenger Science in the Next Decade,” K. Engle et al. arxiv.org/abs/2203.10074

Zweibel receives Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s most prestigious award

This post is adapted from an Astronomical Society of the Pacific press release

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) has awarded the 2022 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal to Ellen Zweibel. It is the most prestigious award given by ASP.

profile photo of Ellen Zweibel
Ellen Zweibel, W. L. Kraushaar professor of astronomy and physics (Photo by Althea Dotzour / UW–Madison)

Zweibel, the William L. Kraushaar professor of astronomy and physics at UW–Madison, was recognized for her contributions to the understanding of astrophysical plasmas, especially those associated with the Sun, stars, galaxies, and galaxy clusters. She has also made major contributions in linking plasma characteristics and behaviors observed in laboratories to astrophysical plasma phenomena occurring in the universe.

Most plasma effects in astrophysical systems are due to an embedded magnetic field. Many of them can be grouped into a small number of basic physical processes: how magnetic fields are generated, how they exchange energy with their environments (sometimes on explosively fast timescales), their role in global instabilities, how they cause a tiny fraction of thermal particles to be accelerated to relativistic energies, and how they mediate the interaction of these relativistic particles (cosmic rays) with their gaseous environments through waves and instabilities on microscales. Although all these processes occur in laboratory plasmas, it is in natural plasmas that they take their most extreme forms. Zweibel and her students and postdocs have used analytical theory and numerical simulations to study the generation and evolution of magnetic fields in the Sun and other stars, in galaxies, and in galaxy clusters, and have researched the effects of high energy cosmic ray particles in all of these environments. Their most recent work centers on the role of cosmic rays in star formation feedback: the self-regulation of the star formation rate in galaxies through energy and momentum input to the ambient medium by the stars themselves.

a gold medal that says astronomical society of the pacific around the rim and has an antiquity-looking woman and other details
The Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal (photo from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific)

Zweibel has authored over 242 refereed publications with over 8,000 citations. In 2016 she was awarded the American Physical Society’s James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics “For seminal research on the energetics, stability, and dynamics of astrophysical plasmas, including those related to stars and galaxies, and for leadership in linking plasma and other astrophysical phenomena.” She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal was established in 1898 by Catherine Wolfe Bruce, an American philanthropist and patroness of astronomy. The ASP presents the medal annually to a professional astronomer in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement and contributions to astrophysics research. It was first awarded in 1898 to Simon Newcomb. Previous recipients of the Bruce Medal include Giovanni V. Schiaparelli (1902), Edwin Hubble (1938), Fred Hoyle (1970), and Vera Rubin (2003)

Cross-institutional collaboration leads to new control over quantum dot qubits

a greyscale image makes up the border of this square image, with a full-color square in the exact center. the image shows tiny tunnel-like features, all congregating in the middle

This story was originally published by the Chicago Quantum Exchange

Qubits are the building blocks of quantum computers, which have the potential to revolutionize many fields of research by solving problems that classical computers can’t.

But creating qubits that have the perfect quality necessary for quantum computing can be challenging.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, HRL Laboratories LLC, and University of New South Wales (UNSW) collaborated on a project to better control silicon quantum dot qubits, allowing for higher-quality fabrication and use in wider applications.

All three institutions are affiliated with the Chicago Quantum Exchange. The work was published in Physical Review Letters, and the lead author, J. P. Dodson, has recently transitioned from UW–Madison to HRL.

“Consistency is the thing we’re after here,” says Mark Friesen, Distinguished Scientist of Physics at UW–Madison and author on the paper.  “Our claim is that there is actually hope to create a very uniform array of dots that can be used as qubits.”

Sensitive quantum states

While classical computer bits use electric circuits to represent two possible values (0 and 1), qubits use two quantum states to represent 0 and 1, which allows them to take advantage of quantum phenomena like superposition to do powerful calculations.

Qubits can be constructed in different ways. One way to build a qubit is by fabricating a quantum dot, or a very, very small cage for electrons, formed within a silicon crystal. Unlike qubits made of single atoms, which are all naturally identical, quantum dot qubits are man-made—allowing researchers to customize them to different applications.

But one common wrench in the metaphorical gears of these silicon qubits is competition between different kinds of quantum states. Most qubits use “spin states” to represent 0 and 1, which rely on a uniquely quantum property called spin. But if the qubit has other kinds of quantum states with similar energies, those other states can interfere, making it difficult for scientists to effectively use the qubit.

In silicon quantum dots, the states that most often compete with the ones needed for computing are “valley states,” named for their locations on an energy graph—they exist in the “valleys” of the graph.

To have the most effective quantum dot qubit, the valley states of the dot must be controlled such that they do not interfere with the quantum information-carrying spin states. But the valley states are extremely sensitive; the quantum dots sit on a flat surface, and if there is even one extra atom on the surface underneath the quantum dot, the energies of the valley states change.

The study’s authors say these kinds of single-atom defects are pretty much “unavoidable,” so they found a way to control the valley states even in the presence of defects. By manipulating the voltage across the dot, the researchers found they could physically move the dot around the surface it sits on.

“The gate voltages allow you to move the dot across the interface it sits on by a few nanometers, and by doing that, you change its position relative to atomic-scale features,” says Mark Eriksson, John Bardeen Professor and chair of the UW–Madison physics department, who worked on the project. “That changes the energies of valley states in a controllable way.

“The take home message of this paper,” he says, “is that the energies of the valley states are not determined forever once you make a quantum dot. We can tune them, and that allows us to make better qubits that are going to make for better quantum computers.”

Building on academic and industry expertise

The host materials for the quantum dots are “grown” with precise layer composition. The process is extremely technical, and Friesen notes that Lisa Edge at HRL Laboratories is a world expert.

“It requires many decades of knowledge to be able to grow these devices properly,” says Friesen. “We have several years of collaborating with HRL, and they’re very good at making really high-quality materials available to us.”

The work also benefitted from the knowledge of Susan Coppersmith, a theorist previously at UW–Madison who moved to UNSW in 2018. Eriksson says the collaborative nature of the research was crucial to its success.

“This work, which gives us a lot of new knowledge about how to precisely control these qubits, could not have been done without our partners at HRL and UNSW,” says Eriksson. “There’s a strong sense of community in quantum science and technology, and that is really pushing the field forward.”

Opening doors to quantum research experiences with the Open Quantum Initiative

This past winter, Katie Harrison, then a junior physics major at UW–Madison, started thinking about which areas of physics she was interested in studying more in-depth.

“Physics is in general so broad, saying you want to research physics doesn’t really cut it,” Harrison says.

She thought about which classes she enjoyed the most and talked to other students and professors to help figure out what she might focus on. Quantum mechanics was high on her list. During her search for additional learning opportunities, she saw the email about the Open Quantum Initiative (OQI), a new fellowship program run by the Chicago Quantum Exchange (CQE).

“This could be something I’m interested in, right?” Harrison thought. “I’ll apply and see what happens.”

What happened was that Harrison was one of 12 undergraduate students accepted into the inaugural class of OQI Fellows. These students were paired with mentors at CQE member institutions, where they conducted research in quantum science information and engineering. OQI has a goal of connecting students with leaders in academia and industry and increasing their awareness of quantum career opportunities. The ten-week Fellowship ran through August 19.

11 students pose on a rock wall, all students are wearing the same Chicago Quantum Exchange hooded sweatshirt
OQI students attend a wrap-up at the University of Chicago on August 17. Each student presented at a research symposium that day, which also included a career panel from leaders across academia, government, and industry and an opportunity to network. | Photo provided by the Chicago Quantum Exchange

OQI also places an emphasis on establishing diversity, equity, and inclusion as priorities central to the development of the quantum ecosystem. Almost 70% of this year’s fellowship students are Hispanic, Latino, or Black, and half are the first in their family to go to college. In addition, while the field of quantum science and engineering is generally majority-male, the 2022 cohort is half female.

This summer, UW–Madison and the Wisconsin Quantum Institute hosted two students: Harrison with physics professor Baha Balantekin and postdoc Pooja Siwach; and MIT physics and electrical engineering major Kate Arutyunova with engineering physics professor Jennifer Choy, postdoc Maryam Zahedian and graduate student Ricardo Vidrio.

Harrison and Arutyunova met at OQI orientation at IBM’s quantum research lab in New York, and they hit it off immediately. (“We have the most matching energies (of the fellows),” Arutyunova says, with Harrison adding, “The synergy is real.”)

Four people stand in a lab in front of electronics equipment
OQI Fellow Kate Arutyunova with her research mentors. (L-R) Engineering Physics professor Jennifer Choy, graduate student Ricardo Vidrio, Kate Arutyunova, and postdoc Maryam Zahedian. | Photo provided by Kate Arutyunova

Despite their very different research projects — Harrison’s was theoretical and strongly focused on physics, whereas Arutyunova’s was experimental and with an engineering focus — they leaned on each other throughout the summer in Madison. They met at Union South nearly every morning at 7am to read and bounce ideas off each other. Then, after a full day with their respective research groups, they’d head back to Union South until it closed.

Modeling neutrino oscillations

Harrison’s research with Balantekin and Siwach investigated the neutrinos that escape collapsing supernovae cores. Neutrinos have a neutral charge and are relatively small particles, they make it out of cores without interacting with much — and therefore without changing much — so studying them helps physicists understand what is happening inside those stars. However, this is a difficult task because neutrinos oscillate between flavors, or different energy levels, and therefore require a lot of time and resources to calculate on a classical computer.

Harrison’s project, then, was to investigate two types of quantum computing methods, pulse vs circuit based, and determine if one might better fit their problem than the other. Previous studies suggest that pulsed based is likely to be better, but circuit based involves less complicated input calculations.

“I’ve been doing calibrations and calculating the frequencies of the pulses we’ll need to send to our qubits in order to get data that’s as accurate as a classical computer,” Harrison says. “I’m working with the circuit space, the mathematical versions of them, and then I’ll send my work to IBM’s quantum computers and they’ll calculate it and give results back.”

While she didn’t fully complete the project, she did make significant progress.

“(Katie) is very enthusiastic and she has gone a lot further than one would have expected an average undergraduate could have,” Balantekin says. “She started an interesting project, she started getting interesting results. But we are nowhere near the completion of the project, so she will continue working with us next academic year, and hopefully we’ll get interesting results.”

Developing better quantum sensors 

Over on the engineering side of campus, Arutyunova was studying different ways to introduce nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers in diamonds. These atomic-scale defects are useful in quantum sensing and have applications in magnetometry. Previous work in Choy’s group made the NV centers by a method known as nitrogen ion beam implantation. Arutyunova’s project was to compare how a different method, electron beam irradiation, formed the NV centers under different starting nitrogen concentrations in diamond.

Briefly, she would mark an edge of a very tiny (2 x 2 x 0.5 millimeter), nitrogen-containing diamond, and irradiate the sample with a scanning electron microscope. She used confocal microscopy to record the initial distribution of NV centers, then moved the sample to the annealing step, where the diamond is heated up to 1200 celsius in a vacuum annealing furnace. The diamonds are then acid washed and reexamined with the confocal microscope to see if additional NV centers are formed.

“It’s a challenging process as it requires precise coordinate-by-coordinate calculation for exposed areas and extensive knowledge of how to use the scanning electron microscope,” says Arutyunova, who will go back to MIT after the fellowship wraps. “I think I laid down a good foundation for future steps so that the work can be continued in my group.”

Choy adds:

Kate made significant strides in her project and her work has put us on a great path for our continued investigation into effective ways of generating color centers in diamond. In addition to her research contributions, our group has really enjoyed and benefited from her enthusiasm and collaborative spirit. It’s wonderful to see the relationships that Kate has forged with the rest of the group and in particular her mentors, Maryam and Ricardo. We look forward to keeping in touch with Kate on matters related to the project as well as her academic journey.

Beyond the summer fellowship

 Both Harrison and Arutyunova think that this experience has drawn them to the graduate school track, likely with a focus on quantum science. More importantly, it has helped them both to learn what they like about research.

“I would prefer to work on a problem and see the final output rather than a question where I do not have an idea of the application,” Arutyunova says. “And I realized how much I like to collaborate with people, exchange ideas, propose something, and listen to people and what they think about research.”

They also offer similar advice to other undergraduate students who are interested in research: do it, and start early.

“No matter when you start, you’re going to start knowing nothing,” Harrison says. “And if you start sooner, even though it’s scary and you feel like you know even less, you have more time to learn, which is amazing. And get in a research group where they really want you to learn.”

Search for neutrino emission associated with LIGO/Virgo gravitational waves

Gravitational waves (GWs) are a signature for some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, which cause ripples in space-time that travel at the speed of light. These events, spurred by massive accelerating objects, act as cosmic messengers that carry with them clues to their origins. They are also probable sources for highly energetic neutrinos, nearly massless cosmic messengers hurtling through space unimpeded. Because neutrinos rarely interact with surrounding matter, they can reveal phenomena that are otherwise unobserved with electromagnetic waves. These high-energy neutrinos are detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a cubic-kilometer detector enveloped in Antarctic ice at the South Pole.

Both GWs and neutrinos are recently introduced messengers in astronomy and have yet to be detected by the same source. Such a major discovery would not only shed light on the sources of cosmic rays but would also help in understanding the most energetic processes in the universe. By coordinating traditional observations (from radio to gamma rays) with these new messengers, researchers can gain deeper insights into astrophysical sources that were unobtainable before.

Previously, the IceCube Collaboration looked for joint emission of GWs and high-energy neutrinos with data collected by IceCube, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and the Virgo gravitational wave detector. These results were from GWs observed during the first two observing runs (O1 and O2) of LIGO and Virgo. IceCube researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Columbia University conducted an updated analysis of GWs from the third observing run (O3) of the LIGO/Virgo detectors. The increased number of GWs improved the researchers’ overall analysis. Their findings were recently submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.

Read the full story by WIPAC

X(ray) marks the spot in elemental analysis of 15th century printing press methods

a woman (left, bending down) and a man (right, crouched) position an ancient manuscript into a machine

This story was originally published by University Communications

In 15th century Germany, Johannes Gutenberg developed a printing press, a machine that allowed for mass production of texts. It is considered by many to be one of the most significant technological advancements of the last millennium.

Though Gutenberg often receives credit as the inventor of the printing press, sometime earlier, roughly 5,000 miles away, Koreans had already developed a movable-type printing press.

There is no question that East Asians were first. There is also no question that Gutenberg’s invention in Europe had a far greater impact.

“What is not known is whether Gutenberg knew about the Korean printing or not. And if we could shed light on that question, that would be earth shattering,” says Uwe Bergmann, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who, with UW–Madison physics graduate student Minhal Gardezi, is part of a large, interdisciplinary team that is analyzing historical texts.

He adds: “But even if we don’t, we can learn a lot about early printing methods, and that will already be a big insight.”

These texts include pages from a Gutenberg bible and Confucian texts, and they’re helping investigate these questions. The team includes 15th century Korean texts experts, Gutenberg experts, paper experts, ink experts and many more.

a person, with essentialy just their hands visible, holds a wooden box that is wrapped with a leather tie and has Korean text on the side
One of the leaves scanned was printed by a Korean movable type printing press in 1442. One of the team members from UNESCO, Angelica Noh, traveled with the preserved documents from Korea to SLAC. IMAGE PROVIDED BY MINHAL GARDEZI

How did two physicists end up participating in a seemingly very non-physics cultural heritage project? Bergmann had previously worked on other historical text analyses, where he pioneered the application of a technique known as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) imaging.

In XRF imaging, a powerful machine called a synchrotron sends an intense and very small X-ray beam — about the diameter of a human hair — at a page of text at a 45-degree angle. The beam excites electrons in the atoms that make up the text, requiring another electron to fill in the space left by the first (all matter is made up of atoms, which contain even smaller components called electrons).

The second electron loses energy in the process, and that energy is released as a small flash of light. A detector placed strategically nearby picks up that light, or its X-ray fluorescence, and measures both its intensity and the part of the light spectrum to which it belongs.

“Every single element on the periodic table emits an X-ray fluorescence spectrum that is unique to that atom when hit with a high-energy X-ray. Based on its ‘color,’ we know exactly which element is present,” says Gardezi. “It’s a very high-precision instrument that tells you all the elements that are at every location in a sample.”

With this information, researchers can effectively create an elemental map of the document. By rapidly scanning a page across the X-ray beam, they can create a record of the XRF spectrum at each pixel. One page can produce several million XRF spectra.

This summer, Bergmann and Gardezi were part of a team that used XRF scanning at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California to produce elemental maps of several large areas from original pages of a first-edition, 42-line Gutenberg Bible (dating back to 1450 to 1455 A.D.) and from Korean texts dating back to the early part of that. century.

They scanned the texts at a rate of around one pixel every 10 milliseconds, then filtered the data by elemental signature, providing high-resolution maps of which elements are present and in what relative quantities.

a three panel image. The top shows a regular photograph of the Korean text, with a dotted white line around two lines of 6 characters. The second panel shows the XRF of those characters, with a blue backround, a yellow-green hue aorund the characters, and red in the characters themmselves. The bottom panel shows a second XRF scan, but here almost the entire panel is blue, except for the circles of the characters, which are red, indicating the element being filtered was only present in the circles of the text.
A photograph of a scanned Korean text. The white dotted box indicates the areas shown in the middle and bottom panels. Each element produces a unique X-ray fluorescence. After scanning the text, the researchers applied filters for the known XRF patterns of different elements and created a color-coded heat-map of their abundance, from lowest (blue) to highest (red). An element found in only small quantities is in the red circles in the bottom part of the image. IMAGE PROVIDED BY MINHAL GARDEZI

In a way, the work is like digging for treasure from an old map — Gardezi says the researchers do not know exactly what they are looking for, but they are most interested in the unexpected.

For example, she recently presented early results of scans to the team, to demonstrate the approach had worked and that the researchers could separate out different elements. It turns out this isn’t what the team found most interesting.

“Instead, these scholars spent 15-to-20 minutes talking about, ‘Why is (this element) present?’ and coming up with hypotheses,” Gardezi says. “As physicists, we wouldn’t even recognize if something is surprising or not. It’s really this interdisciplinary aspect that tells us what to look for, what the smoking gun is.”

As more questions arise based on the elemental analyses, Bergmann and Gardezi will help guide the team to address those questions quantitatively. They are already planning to recreate some early printings in the lab — with known types, papers and inks — then compare these XRF scans with the originals.

The research may never definitively determine if Gutenberg knew about the Korean presses or if he developed his press independently. But without access to the original presses themselves, these texts hold the only clues to understanding the nature of these transformative machines.

“The more you read about it, the more you learn that there is less certainty about several things related to early printing presses,” Bergmann says. “Maybe this technique will allow us to view these prints as a time capsule and gain invaluable insight into this watershed moment in human history.”

Watch Minhal Gardezi show off XRF at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The UW–Madison efforts in the project are supported by the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Study led by UW–Madison researcher confirms star wreck as source of extreme cosmic particles

Astronomers have long sought the launch sites for some of the highest energy protons in our galaxy. Now, a study using 12 years of data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi) confirms that a remnant of a supernova, or star explosion, is just such a place, solving a decade-long cosmic mystery.

a mostly black image of space, with some small white-ish out-of-focus stars, and a large fuzzy pink blob partially overlapping a green-hued amorphous apparition
The newly discovered PeVatron (in pink) is hosted by a supernova remnant (in green) called G106.3+2.7. The supernova remnant is believed to have formed together with the pulsar (in magenta) about 10,000 years ago. Particles accelerated by the shock waves of the supernova remnant interact with the gas in the interstellar medium, producing high-energy gamma-ray emission. Credit: Jayanne English, University of Manitoba, NASA/Fermi/Fang et al. 2022, and Canadian Galactic Plane Survey/DRAO.

Previously, Fermi has shown that the shock waves of exploded stars boost particles to speeds comparable to that of light. Called cosmic rays, these particles mostly take the form of protons, but can include atomic nuclei and electrons. Because they all carry an electric charge, their paths become scrambled as they whisk through our galaxy’s magnetic field, which masks their origins. But when these particles collide with interstellar gas near the supernova remnant (SNR), they produce a telltale glow in gamma rays—the highest-energy light there is.

“Theorists think the highest energy cosmic ray protons in the Milky Way reach a million billion electron volts, or PeV energies,” said Ke Fang, an assistant professor of physics at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC), a research center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “The precise nature of their sources, which we call PeVatrons, has been difficult to pin down.”

Fang, who led the study, performed the data analysis and developed the theory models. The research team identified a few suspected PeVatrons, including one at the center of our galaxy. Naturally, SNR top the list of candidates. Yet out of about 300 known remnants, only a few have been found to emit gamma rays with sufficiently high energies.

Read the full story

Higgs @ Ten: UW–Madison physicists’ past and future roles

Ten years ago, on July 4, 2012, the CMS and ATLAS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN — including many current and former UW–Madison physicists — announced they had discovered a particle that was consistent with predictions of the Higgs boson.

In the ten years since, scientists have confirmed the finding was the Higgs boson, but its discovery opened more avenues of discovery than it closed. Now, with the LHC back up and running, delivering proton collisions at unprecedented energies, high energy physicists are ready to investigate even more properties of the particle.

cover of an issue of Physics Letters B, with data plots of the Higgs discovery in the foreground and a background aerial shot of CERN
The Higgs discovery was published in Physics Letters B and received the cover

“The Higgs plays an incredibly important role in particle physics,” says Kevin Black, who previously worked on ATLAS before joining the UW–Madison physics department and is now part of CMS. “But for being such a fundamental particle, for giving mass to all elementary particles, for being deeply connected to flavor physics and why we have different generations of matter particles — we know a relatively small amount about it.”

Finding the Higgs particle had been one of the main goals of the LHC. The particle was first theorized by physicist Peter Higgs (amongst others, but his name was forever associated with it) in the 1960s.

“The basic idea was that if you just had electromagnetic and strong interactions, then the theory would have been fine if you just put a mass in by hand for the elementary particles,” explains Black. “The weak interaction spoils that, and it was a big question at the time of whether or not the whole structure of particle physics and of quantum field theory were actually going to be consistent.”

Higgs and others realized that there was a way to make it happen if they introduced a new field, which then became the Higgs field and the Higgs particle, that can interact with all other matter and give particles their mass. The Higgs particle, however, eluded experimental observation, leaving a gap in the Standard Model. In retrospect, one of the difficulties was that the mass of the Higgs — around 125 GeV — was much larger than the technology at the time could reach experimentally.

In earlier generations of experiments, UW–Madison physicist Sau Lan Wu participated in searches using the ALEPH experiment that placed a strong lower bound on the mass of the Higgs boson. Also at UW–Madison, Duncan Carlsmith, Matthew Herndon and their groups participated in searches at the CDF experiment that placed an upper bound on the mass of the Higgs boson and saw evidence of Higgs production in the region of mass where it was finally discovered.

Wesley Smith holds a large electronics board full of circuits and wires
Wesley Smith shows the electronics of the trigger system which led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Smith led the team that designed and developed the trigger system.

This research set the stage for the experiments that were perfectly designed to discover the Higgs boson: the world’s most powerful hadron collider, the LHC, and the most capable pair of high energy collider experiments ever built, CMS and ATLAS.

The UW–Madison CMS group had three major projects: the trigger project led by Wesley Smith (now emeritus faculty), and the end cap muon system led by Don Reeder (now emeritus faculty) and Dick Loveless (now emeritus scientist), and a computing project led by Sridhara Dasu, who is current head of the group. Having made essential detector contributions, the UW–Madison CMS group, including Herndon, moved on to Higgs hunting and the discoveries. The group, now bolstered by the addition of Black and Tulika Bose to the physics department faculty, continues the work of understanding the Higgs Boson thoroughly.

The UW–Madison ATLAS group, founded and led by Wu, is an important leader of Higgs physics. The group is fortunate to attract another important leader of ATLAS, Higgs physicist Kyle Cranmer, who recently joined UW–Madison as physics department faculty and the director of the American Family Data Science Institute.

Both CMS and ATLAS announced the discovery, made separately but concurrently, in 2012. When it was first discovered, it conformed to expected energies and momentum of the Higgs, but finding it in this rare decay mode was unexpected, so LHC scientists called it the Higgs-like particle for a while.

a group of very happy scientists pose for a shot, all holding a printout of the same graph
The UW–Madison ATLAS group at CERN at the time of the Higgs discovery all celebrated with printouts of the data confirming 5sigma. | Provided by Sau Lan Wu

Wu recalls her and her group’s involvement in a recent essay published in Physics Today:

At 3:00pm [on June 25, 2012], there was a commotion in the Wisconsin corridor on the ground floor of CERN Building 32. My graduate student Haichen Wang was saying loudly, ‘Haoshuang is going to announce the Higgs discovery!’ Our first reaction was that it was a joke; thus when we entered Haoshuang’s office, we all had smiles on our faces. Those smiles suddenly became much bigger when we got to look at the result of Haoshuang’s combination: It showed the 5.08s close to the Higgs mass of 125GeV/c2. Pretty soon, cheers were ringing down the Wisconsin corridor.

ATLAS had a discovery!”

The Higgs-like announcement from ten years ago has since been confirmed to be the Higgs particle. Several years later, Dasu’s group’s work saw the Higgs decay into the tau, and provided the first evidence of the particle coupling to matter particles, not just to bosons.

a screenshot of a newspaper front page, with an artistically-rendered photo of 5 key scientists involved in the Higgs discovery
Sau Lan Wu and other Higgs scientists were featured on the cover of the New York Times for a story about the chase for the Higgs boson.

On the ten-year anniversary, both ATLAS and CMS collaborations published summaries of their findings to date and future directions. Experimental questions still being addressed include continuing to measure higher-precision interactions between the Higgs and particles it has already been observed to interact with, and detecting previously-unobserved interactions between the Higgs and other particles.

“One big question that immediately comes to my mind is the mass problem. The breakthrough generated by the Higgs discovery was that elementary particles acquire their masses through the Higgs particle,” Wu writes in her Physics Today essay. “A deeper question that needs to be answered is how to explain the values of the individual masses of the elementary particles. In my mind, this mass problem remains a big topic to be explored in the years to come.”

“Another one of the big things that we’re looking for in future data is to understand Higgs potential,” Black says. “Right now, by measuring the mass, we’ve only measured right around its ground state, and that has great implications for the stability of our universe.”

Also on the ten-year anniversary, CERN announced that the LHC — which had been shut down for three years to work on upgrades — was ready to again start delivering proton collisions at an unprecedented energy of 13.6 TeV in its third round of runs. It is expected that the ATLAS and CMS detectors will record more collisions in this upcoming run than in the previous two combined.

The LHC program is scheduled to run through 2040, and the UW–Madison scientists who are part of the CMS and ATLAS collaborations will almost certainly continue to play key roles in future discoveries.

UW–Madison’s current CMS collaboration members include Kevin Black, Tulika Bose, Sridhara Dasu, and Matthew Herndon, and their research groups. Current ATLAS collaboration members include Kyle Cranmer and Sau Lan Wu and their research groups.