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NSF awards UW $3 million to advance quantum physics, technology

September 24, 2018 By Eric Hamilton

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers secured three grants totaling $3 million to advance high-risk, high-reward and interdisciplinary research into quantum physics and technology, the National Science Foundation announced today, Sept. 24.

UW–Madison Professor of Chemistry Robert Hamers and Professors of Physics Mark Saffman and Victor Brar are the principal investigators of the three grants, which include collaborators at UW–Madison, Princeton University and IBM. These three grants are among 25 in NSF’s RAISE-TAQS initiative, an effort to fund major advances in quantum physics. In 2016, the agency identified quantum research as one of its 10 top funding priorities.

With UW–Madison colleagues in physics and electrical engineering, Hamers’ project aims to develop new ways to analyze individual molecules. The team will take advantage of well-understood structural defects in diamond crystals called NV centers. Under the right conditions, the NV center may allow new kinds of chemical analysis using a property of electrons known as their spin. Part of the research will develop new methods for constructing diamonds with specific defects to support the chemical analysis work.

Saffman will partner with professors in the Departments of Chemistry and Electrical and Computer Engineering at UW–Madison to develop improvements to the processing and communication of quantum information. The team will use laser-cooled atoms as part of new devices designed to convert quantum states into packets of light. The researchers will design and fabricate integrated optical chips as a step toward   developing practical systems for secure quantum communication.

Working with chemists and electrical engineers at Princeton University and quantum computing experts at IBM, Brar’s group will pursue improvements in the materials underlying quantum computers. The team aims to detect and understand the microscopic sources of noise in existing devices — known as superconducting qubits — which keep quantum computers from being practical. Researchers will then pursue new materials or fabrication techniques that can steadily improve the stability of quantum computers.

Tags: grants, physics