Research, teaching and outreach in Physics at UW–Madison
Victor Brar earns NSF CAREER award
Congrats to associate professor Victor Brar on earning an NSF CAREER award! CAREER awards are NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
For this award, Brar will study the flow of electrons in 2D materials, or materials that are only around one atom thick. His group has already shown that when they applied a relatively old technique — scanning tunneling potentiometry, or STP — to 2D materials such as graphene, they could create unexpectedly high-contrast images, where they could track the movement of individual electrons when an electric current was applied. They found that electrons flow like a viscous fluid, a property that had been predicted but not observed directly.
“So now instead of applying electrical bias, we’ll apply a thermal bias, because we know things move from hot to cold, and then image how [electrons] move in that way,” Brar says. “Part of what’s driving this idea is that Professor Levchenko has predicted that if you image the way heat flows through a material, it should also behave hydrodynamically, like a liquid, rather than diffusive, which is how you might imagine it.”
One motivation for this research is to better understand the general flow of fluids, a problem that is often too complex for supercomputers to solve correctly. Because STP visualizes the fluid-like flow of electrons directly, Brar envisions this work as potentially providing a way of solving fluid mechanics problems by directly imaging flow, without the need of simulations, similar to what is done in wind tunnels.
“Also, there are these predicted phases of electrons that no one has observed before,” Brar says. “We want to be the first to observe them.”
In addition to an innovative research component, NSF proposals require that the research has broader societal impacts, such as working toward greater inclusion in STEM or increasing public understanding of science. Brar’s group is using haptic pens, devices that are commonly used in remote trainings for surgeons and in the gaming community because they give a gentle push back that mimics a realistic touch. By attaching the haptic pen to a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), people holding the pen can “feel” the individual atoms and surfaces that the STM is touching.
“We think materials science is one of those areas where feeling the forces that hold matter together may provide more intuitive than looking at equations,” Brar says. “We’re making virtual crystal lattices that you can touch with the haptic pen and feel how the atoms fix together, but we’re also making it so you can feel the different forces of the different atoms used.”
Brar plans to introduce the haptic pen and atom models into Physics 407 and develop a materials science module for the UW Alumni Association’s Grandparents University. And because the haptic pen relies almost entirely on touch, Brar plans to work with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired to improve access to materials science instruction for people with vision impairments.
“Sandwich” structure found to reduce errors caused by quasiparticles in superconducting qubits
Qubits are notoriously more prone to error than their classical counterparts. While superconducting quantum computers currently use on the order of 100 to 1000 qubits, an estimated one million qubits will be needed to track and correct errors in a quantum computer designed for real-world applications. At present, it is not known how to scale superconducting qubit circuits to this size.
In a new study published in PRX Quantum, UW–Madison physicists from Robert McDermott’s group developed and tested a new superconducting qubit architecture that is potentially more scalable than the current state of the art. Control of the qubits is achieved via “Single Flux Quantum” (SFQ) pulses that can be generated close to the qubit chip. They found that SFQ-based control fidelity improved ten-fold over their previous versions, providing a promising platform for scaling up the number of qubits in a quantum array.
The architecture involves a sandwich of two chips: one chip houses the qubits, while the other contains the SFQ control unit. The new approach suppresses the generation of quasiparticles, which are disruptions in the superconducting ground state that degrade qubit performance.
“This structure physically separates the two units, and quasiparticles on the SFQ chip cannot diffuse to the quantum chip and generate errors,” explains Chuan-Hong Liu, PhD ’23, a former UW–Madison physics graduate student and lead author of the study. “This design is totally new, and it greatly improves our gate fidelities.”
Liu and his colleagues assessed the fidelity of SFQ-based gates through randomized benchmarking. In this approach, the team established operating parameters to maximize the overall fidelity of complex control sequences. For instance, for a qubit that begins in the ground state, they performed long sequences incorporating many gates that should be equivalent to an identity operation; in the end, they measured the fraction of the population remaining in the ground state. A higher measured ground state population indicated higher gate fidelity.
Inevitably, there are residual errors, but the reduced quasiparticle poisoning was expected to lower the error rate and improve gate fidelities — and it did.
“Most of the gates had 99% fidelity,” Liu says. “That’s a one order of magnitude reduction in infidelity compared to the last generation.”
Importantly, they showed the stability of the SFQ-based gates over the course of a six-hour experimental run.
Later in the study, the researchers investigated the source of the remaining errors. They found that the SFQ unit was emitting photons with sufficient energy to create quasiparticles on the qubit chip. With the unique source of the error identified, Liu and his colleagues can develop ways to improve the design.
“We realized this quasiparticle generation is due to spurious antenna coupling between the SFQ units and the qubit units,” Liu says. “This is really interesting because we usually talk about qubits in the range of one to ten gigahertz, but this error is in the 100 to 1000 gigahertz range. This is an area people have never explored, and we provide a straightforward way to make improvements.”
This study is a collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Syracuse University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and UW–Madison.
This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1747426); the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Accelerator; Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA-20001-D2022-2203120004); and the NIST Program on Scalable Superconducting Computing and the National Nuclear Security Administration Advanced Simulation and Computing Beyond Moore’s Law program (LLNL-ABS-795437).
Choy leads team awarded National Science Foundation Quantum Sensing Challenge Grant
The National Science Foundation has selected a proposal “Compact and robust quantum atomic sensors for timekeeping and inertial sensing” by an interdisciplinary team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers for...
37 years after joining the faculty of the department of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Prof. Bob Joynt has announced his retirement at the end of July.
Joynt is a condensed matter theorist who began as an assistant professor in 1986. His early work focused largely on superconductivity, including high temperature superconductors. He also played an important role in better understanding the Quantum Hall effect, dating back to his graduate work and continuing here. After a decade and a half, his career took a fortuitous turn when he wrote a quantum computing grant proposal with physics professor Mark Eriksson and other researchers in engineering.
“That was really a pivotal point in my career, and I’ve been doing quantum computing mostly ever since,” Joynt recalls. “Change is good, I found. I enjoyed that change and I’m glad I did it.”
His work for the past 20 years has mainly focused on understanding the origins of noise and decoherence in quantum systems and in the design of semiconductor structures for quantum computing. Joynt is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a UW–Madison Romnes Faculty Fellow. He has co-authored over 175 peer-reviewed publications and trained 26 doctoral students, in addition to numerous postdocs and MS Physics–Quantum Computing students.
Joynt’s academic and research achievements alone comprise an illustrious career that any retiring professor would likely be happy with. Still, his contributions to the department span so much more.
Joynt served as department chair from 2011-2014, for which he focused his efforts on department fundraising. He was responsible for starting the Board of Visitors, a group of people, mostly in industry, with strong ties to the department. The BoV advises and assists on department priorities, plays a leading role in fundraising, and provides a professional network for current students and alumni. From 2017-2022, Joynt additionally served as the department’s Associate Chair for Alumni Relations and the Board of Visitors.
Around 2016, Joynt noted that doctoral students with quantum computing research experience were in such high demand that employers were often entering bidding wars for them. Was there a way to meet the demands of the quantum computing workforce by training students in a year or two? And so, thanks to Joynt’s vision and persistence, the MS in Physics–Quantum Computing program — the first MS in quantum computing in the U.S. — enrolled its first cohort in Fall 2019.
“We take about 25-30 PhD students each year, and now we take about the same number of MSQPC students,” Joynt says. “It’s become a big part of the department’s educational program.”
Adds Mark Eriksson, Department Chair and John Bardeen Professor of Physics: “Our department’s MSPQC program was the first in the nation and remains a model for others, thanks to Professor Joynt’s vision and energy.”
The department boasts the oldest hands-on science museum in the country — a claim we now feel confident making thanks to Joynt’s extensive research on the history of the Ingersoll Physics Museum for its 100th anniversary in 2018. The museum and physics outreach in general have always been important to Joynt. He has served in an informal capacity as faculty lead for the museum for several years now, helping to raise funds and ensure the museum fulfills its mission of providing free, hands-on, inquiry-based exhibits.
When asked what he wanted to be remembered for in the department, Joynt reflected on lessons from his career and then looked forward: “My advice to the department is: do new things. Don’t be afraid of change. Science changes, education changes, all these things are changing, and you need to change with them.”
Joynt’s retirement is official as of July 31, but he emphasizes that he is only retiring from administrative and teaching duties. He plans to continue his research efforts, sometimes in Madison and often abroad.
Mark Friesen, a senior scientist and long-time collaborator of Joynt’s, says he looks forward to continuing to work with Joynt in this new stage of his career, adding:
“When I joined the department, I knew Bob through reputation as one of the bright condensed matter physicists of his generation. I feel very fortunate to have worked with him, first as a mentor, and later as a colleague. Bob has a tremendous intuition for condensed matter that spans far beyond his immediate research efforts. He also has an easy-going and gracious style that draws in collaborators, and he is just fun to interact with, both inside and outside the department.”
Partnerships bring together UW–Madison quantum computing research, industry leaders
Two leading companies in semiconductor quantum computing are partnering with researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, itself a long-time academic leader in quantum computing.
UW–Madison’s separate partnerships with Intel and HRL Laboratories are part of a first round of collaborations announced June 14 by the LPS Qubit Collaboratory (LQC), a national Quantum Information Science Research Center hosted at the Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS). Established in support of the National Quantum Initiative Act, LQC is facilitating partnerships between industry and academic and national labs to advance research in quantum information science.
“These collaborations are great examples of UW–Madison partnering with industry on the development of important technologies, in this case semiconductor quantum computers,” says physics professor Mark Eriksson, the UW–Madison lead on the partnerships.
When Lake Mendota freezes over in the winter and thaws in the spring, those water/ice phase transitions might seem mundane. But, says new assistant professor of physics Ilya Esterlis, interesting things happen during phase transitions, and commonalities exist between phase transitions of any matter.
“That’s very surprising and strange sounding, but it turns out that there’s a very general framework in which to understand [these commonalities],” Esterlis says. “It’s this notion of universality, and by studying phase transitions you’re simultaneously studying a very broad class of materials.”
Esterlis, a condensed matter theorist whose research focuses on materials and phase transitions, joins the department January 1, 2023. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and joined us for a virtual interview earlier this fall.
Can you please give an overview of your research?
I am a condensed matter theorist, so I study materials, and in particular I try to classify different phases of matter and the phase transitions between those phases of matter. I’m mostly interested in electronic systems, where you have a large macroscopic number of interacting electrons and are trying to understand the kind of phenomena that can emerge when you have that large number of degrees of freedom interacting with one another. And a lot of these things are motivated by experiments — not all of them. There are some more academic questions that I’m interested in investigating and they’re a bit more formal. But I’m also motivated by interesting things that are happening in the lab. Part of my work is not only trying to characterize and understand phases of matter, but also trying to propose ways that different phases could be detected experimentally, how they would manifest themselves in different experimental signatures.
I’m also interested in superconductivity. My PhD work focused a lot on trying to understand the optimal conditions for making superconductors — if you could have every knob at your disposal, what would you do to optimize them? Optimize in this case means: make superconductors that exist at as high of a temperature as possible. Superconductivity is typically a low temperature phenomenon, so there’s a holy grail in condensed matter physics trying to make higher temperature superconductors. Part of my work has been organized around trying to understand what would be even in principle the optimal route towards achieving higher temperature superconductors.
Once you’re in Madison, what are one or two research projects you and your group will focus on?
I will focus a good amount of my research efforts on studying superconductivity, continuing this line of investigation into what the optimal conditions for superconductors are. If you had all the freedom in the world, how would you build the best superconductor that exists to high temperatures and under normal laboratory conditions? Not under extreme, unrealistic conditions but in an everyday parameter regime. And that involves understanding the superconducting state itself. Superconductors are a phase of matter that is distinct from, say, a metal, which is also a good conductor but not a superconductor. But oftentimes to understand superconductors better, one has to understand the state from which they came. That is to say, you take a metal and you cool it down to low temperatures and it goes from being a good conductor to a superconductor. To understand that superconductor, it’s often helpful to understand the metal from which it came at higher temperature. And sometimes those metals can be conventional, like copper wires, but sometimes they can be very unconventional metals and strange for various reasons. One open question is: what is the interplay between superconductivity and unusual metals? If you take a high temperature unusual metal, what is the kind of superconductor that it turns into at lower temperature? And unusual in this context means that it has some properties that are not typical to conventional metals. For instance, there’s predictions for how resistance changes with temperature in a conventional metal but unusual metals have rather different resistance behaviors.
What is your favorite element and/or elementary particle?
Helium is remarkable in that it has a number of unusual properties. For instance, if you cool it down to zero temperature it does not crystallize, it remains a liquid. That’s solely due to quantum mechanics, which is kind of an incredible thing. If you do make it crystallize by applying pressure, then that solid itself also has very interesting properties.
And my favorite elementary particle is the anyon. It’s not elementary, say, in the sense of electrons or quarks. But it’s this really remarkable thing that happens in condensed matter systems where if you take a macroscopic number of electrons and you subject them to a very large magnetic field, then a remarkable thing happens where the behavior of the system, as viewed kind of on macroscopic scales, does not look like the behavior of electrons, it really looks like the behavior of particles called anyons that have fractional electric charge. So they are elementary in condensed matter physics.
What hobbies and interests do you have?
I really love to play music, guitar specifically. And I have two small kids, two daughters, and I just like hanging out with them.
Welcome, Roman Kuzmin, the Dunson Cheng Assistant Professor of Physics
In the modern, cutting-edge field of quantum computing, it can be a bit puzzling to hear a researcher relate their work to low-tech slide rules. Yet that is exactly the analogy that Roman Kuzmin uses to describe one of his research goals, creating quantum simulators to model various materials. He also studies superconducting qubits and ways to increase coherence in this class of quantum computer.
Kuzmin, a quantum information and condensed matter scientist, will join the department as an the Dunson Cheng Assistant Professor of Physics on January 1. He is currently a research scientist at the University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute in College Park, Md, and recently joined us for an interview.
Can you please give an overview of your research?
My main fields are quantum information and condensed matter physics. For example, one of my interests is to solve complicated condensed matter problems using new techniques and materials which quantum information science developed. Also, it works in the other direction. I am also trying to improve materials which are used in quantum information. I work in the subfield of superconducting circuits. There are several different directions in quantum information, and the physics department at Wisconsin has many of them already, so I will complement work in the department.
Once you’re in Madison and your lab is up and running, what are the first big one or two big thingsyou want to really focus your energy on?
One is in quantum information and quantum computing. So, qubits are artificial atoms or building blocks of a quantum computer. I’m simplifying it, of course, but there are environments which try to destroy coherence. In order to scale up those qubits and make quantum computers larger and larger — because that’s what you need eventually to solve anything, to do something useful with it — you need to mitigate decoherence processes which basically prevent qubits from working long enough. So, I will look at the sources of those decoherence processes and try to make qubits live longer and be longer coherent.
A second project is more on the condensed matter part. I will build very large circuits out of Josephson junctions, inductors and capacitors, and such large circuits behave like some many-body objects. It creates a problem which is very hard to solve because it contains many parts, and these parts interact with each other such that the problem is much more complicated than just the sum of those parts.
What are some applications of your work?
Of course this work is interesting for developing theory and understanding our world. But the application, for example for the many-body system I just described, it’s called the quantum impurity. One of my goals is to use this to create a simulator which can potentially model some useful material. It’s like if you have a quantum computer, you can write a program and it will solve something for you. A slide rule is a physical device that allows you to do complicated, logarithmic calculations, but it’s designed to do only this one calculation. I’m creating kind of a quantum slide rule.
What is your favorite element and/or elementary particle?
So, I have my favorite circuit element: Josephson junction. (editor’s note: the question did not specify atomic element, so we appreciate this clever answer!). And for elementary particle, the photon, especially microwave photons, because that’s what I use in these circuits to do simulations. They’re very versatile and they’re just cool.
What hobbies and interests do you have?
I like reading, travelling, and juggling.
New technique reveals changing shapes of magnetic noise in space and time
Electromagnetic noise poses a major problem for communications, prompting wireless carriers to invest heavily in technologies to overcome it. But for a team of scientists exploring the atomic realm, measuring tiny fluctuations in noise could hold the key to discovery.
“Noise is usually thought of as a nuisance, but physicists can learn many things by studying noise,” said Nathalie de Leon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Princeton University. “By measuring the noise in a material, they can learn its composition, its temperature, how electrons flow and interact with one another, and how spins order to form magnets. It is generally difficult to measure anything about how the noise changes in space or time.”
Using specially designed diamonds, a team of researchers at Princeton and the University of Wisconsin–Madison have developed a technique to measure noise in a material by studying correlations, and they can use this information to learn the spatial structure and time-varying nature of the noise. This technique, which relies on tracking tiny fluctuations in magnetic fields, represents a stark improvement over previous methods that averaged many separate measurements.
De Leon is a leader in the fabrication and use of highly controlled diamond structures called nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers. These NV centers are modifications to a diamond’s lattice of carbon atoms in which a carbon is replaced by a nitrogen atom, and adjacent to it is an empty space, or vacancy, in the molecular structure. Diamonds with NV centers are one of the few tools that can measure changes in magnetic fields at the scale and speed needed for critical experiments in quantum technology and condensed matter physics.
While a single NV center allowed scientists to take detailed readings of magnetic fields, it was only when de Leon’s team worked out a method to harness multiple NV centers simultaneously that they were able to measure the spatial structure of noise in a material. This opens the door to understanding the properties of materials with bizarre quantum behaviors that until now have been analyzed only theoretically, said de Leon, the senior author of a paper describing the technique published online Dec. 22 in the journal Science.
“It’s a fundamentally new technique,” said de Leon. “It’s been clear from a theoretical perspective that it would be very powerful to be able to do this. The audience that I think is most excited about this work is condensed matter theorists, now that there’s this whole world of phenomena they might be able to characterize in a different way.”
One of these phenomena is a quantum spin liquid, a material first explored in theories nearly 50 years ago that has been difficult to characterize experimentally. In a quantum spin liquid, electrons are constantly in flux, in contrast to the solid-state stability that characterizes a typical magnetic material when cooled to a certain temperature.
“The challenging thing about a quantum spin liquid is that by definition there’s no static magnetic ordering, so you can’t just map out a magnetic field” the way you would with another type of material, said de Leon. “Until now there’s been essentially no way to directly measure these two-point magnetic field correlators, and what people have instead been doing is trying to find complicated proxies for that measurement.”
By simultaneously measuring magnetic fields at multiple points with diamond sensors, researchers can detect how electrons and their spins are moving across space and time in a material. In developing the new method, the team applied calibrated laser pulses to a diamond containing NV centers, and then detected two spikes of photon counts from a pair of NV centers — a readout of the electron spins at each center at the same point in time. Previous techniques would have taken an average of these measurements, discarding valuable information and making it impossible to distinguish the intrinsic noise of the diamond and its environment from the magnetic field signals generated by a material of interest.
“One of those two spikes is a signal we’re applying, the other is a spike from the local environment, and there’s no way to tell the difference,” said study coauthor Shimon Kolkowitz, an associate professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “But when we look at the correlations, the one that is correlated is from the signal we’re applying and the other is not. And we can measure that, which is something people couldn’t measure before.”
Kolkowitz and de Leon met as Ph.D. students at Harvard University, and have been in touch frequently since then. Their research collaboration arose early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when laboratory research slowed, but long-distance collaboration became more attractive as most interactions took place over Zoom, said de Leon.
Jared Rovny, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research associate in de Leon’s group, led both the theoretical and experimental work on the new method. Contributions by Kolkowitz and his team were critical to designing the experiments and understanding the data, said de Leon. The paper’s coauthors also included Ahmed Abdalla and Laura Futamura, who conducted summer research with de Leon’s team in 2021 and 2022, respectively, as interns in the Quantum Undergraduate Research at IBM and Princeton (QURIP) program, which de Leon cofounded in 2019.
The article, Nanoscale covariance magnetometry with diamond quantum sensors, was published online Dec. 22 in Science. Other coauthors were Zhiyang Yuan, a Ph.D. student at Princeton; Mattias Fitzpatrick, who earned a Ph.D. at Princeton in 2019 and was a postdoctoral research fellow in de Leon’s group (now an assistant professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering); and Carter Fox and Matthew Carl Cambria of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Support for the research was provided in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Princeton Catalysis Initiative and the Princeton Quantum Initiative.
The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Department of Physics contributed to this article.
Shimon Kolkowitz promoted to Associate Professor
Congratulations to Shimon Kolkowitz on his promotion to Associate Professor of Physics with tenure! Professor Kolkowitz is an AMO physicist whose research focuses on ultraprecise atomic clocks and nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers in diamonds, both of which have applications in quantum sensing. He joined the UW–Madison physics faculty as an assistant professor in January 2018. Since then, he has published numerous articles in top journals, including incredibly accurate comparisons of the rate that clocks run this year in the journal Nature.
Department Chair Mark Eriksson emphasizes Kolkowitz’s contributions across all aspects of his work: “Shimon, graduate students, and postdocs here at Wisconsin, have set records with their atomic clock, and at the same time, Shimon has played critically important roles in teaching and service, including guiding our graduate admissions through the pandemic and all that entails.”
Kolkowitz has been named a Packard Fellow, a Sloan Fellow, and has earned an NSF CAREER award, amongst other honors. He is also the Education, Workforce Development, and Outreach Major Activities Lead for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN), an NSF QLCI Institute of which UW–Madison is a member.
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.
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.”)
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.”
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.”