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JQI Awarded New Physics Frontier Center

PFC Group Photo

UMD President C.D. (Dan) Mote Jr., at center, celebrates the PFC award with an AMO lab tour. Clockwise from left: Steve Halperin, Dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences; Chris Lobb, JQI Co-Director; Mel Bernstein, UMD Vice President for Research; Drew Baden, Chair of the UMD Physics Department; Bill Phillips, Principal Investigator of the PFC project; and Chris Monroe, member of the PFC Research Council. The group examined one of Monroe’s trapped-ion experiments.

The National Science Foundation has awarded theJoint Quantum Institute $12.5 million over five years to create and operate a Physics Frontier Center (PFC) at the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park campus. The center will pursue cutting-edge investigations of coherence and entanglement -- two fundamental elements of the physics of quantum information.

The PFC award will fund 17 graduate students, seven postdoctoral scientists and seven undergraduates as well as an extensive and highly cross-disciplinary research program under the general title “Processing Quantum Coherence.” JQI Fellow Bill Phillips of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the Principal Investigator for the project. Members of the PFC Research Council are Phillips, JQI Fellows Luis Orozco (UMD), Sankar Das Sarma (UMD), Chris Monroe (UMD) and Glenn Solomon (NIST).

There are nine other NSF PFCs in the United States. Selection criteria require each one to demonstrate “the potential for a profound advance in physics,” as well as “creative, substantive activities aimed at enhancing education, diversity, and public outreach [and] potential for broader impacts, e.g., impacts on other field(s) and benefits to society,” among other requirements.

The JQI PFC will meet those standards by developing a cross-disciplinary approach to fundamental understanding and control of quantum “coherence” -- the fragile condition in which objects exist in a “superposition” of multiple states at the same time -- in the context of the burgeoning field of quantum information science and quantum computing.

In particular, the PFC will emphasize work at the increasingly busy intersection of two traditionally separate areas: atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO), and condensedmatter physics (CM). That kind of intensely interdisciplinary effort will be necessary to explore the ways in which coherence can be produced and transferred among very different kinds of physical systems, including solid-state photon sources, individual trapped atomic ions, correlated electron gases, ultracold atomic gases in optical lattices, and superconducting quantum interference devices.

At the same time, investigators will have to devise methods of forestalling “decoherence” -- the collapse of the essential coherent state. Within that overall mission, groups of JQI scientists will focus on three major research activities:

  1. Correlated and Topological Matter with Cold Atoms

    Tightly confined collections of cold atoms and ions, accompanied by appropriate laser beam geometries, can experience strong interactions and complex “entangled ground states” -- that is, minimum-energy conditions in which the state of one object is inextricably linked or “entangled” with another object, even though they are separated by arbitrarily large distances.In some cases, these systems constitute a new kind of “condensed matter” that may or may not have analogues in real CM systems. Either way, they will provide valuable insights into the quantum world. Moreover, many of the systems are likely to display “topological phases” in which certain key outcomes appear as shapes extended in space. Such configurations tend to be robustly resistant to external perturbation

  2. Supercircuits at the AMO/CM Interface

    The PFC will develop a hybrid device that couples a unit of magnetix flux in a superconducting circuit to the collectives pin of a population of confined atoms. The arrangement will allow scientists to see how states might be exchanged between the systems, and will enable precise study of poorly understood electric and magnetic fluctuations in superconducting devices. A second activity will involve persistent atomic currents in a toroidal (donut-shaped) trap containing a Bose-Einstein condensate.

  3. Quantum Optics with Hybrid Quantum Systems

    Photons are natural carriers of quantum information over distance, whereas quantum states in matter -- such as semiconductor quantum dots, trapped atoms or ions -- can store coherence locally for long periods of time. The PFC will explore various combinations and interconnections of these systems, and will examine how to interface and entangle individual atoms, degenerate gases and quantum dots with quantum states of light. Central to this activity is the use of photons as intermediaries to entangle atomic qubits (quantum bits which can have a multitude of simultaneous values because they are in a superpositon of states) and quantum dots with quantum states of light. This work will entail extensive and ambitious collaborations among several JQI laboratories.

The PFC will share space with JQI on the second floor of UMD’s Computer and Space Sciences building.