- Apply to UW
- Programs & Majors
- Cost & Financial Aid
- Current Students
- UW Life
- About UW
Published September 12, 2023
In recent years, researchers globally have been racing to create breakthroughs in quantum information science by using the quantum properties of innovative materials for advanced computing and data transmission. One promising approach involves topological superconductors, which are believed to be a practical approach for handling information in future fault-tolerant quantum computers.
Jifa Tian, a University of Wyoming assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is one such researcher tackling this subject.
“The crux of this research on topological superconductivity -- by manipulating topology and superconductivity -- is to harness and control the unique properties of two-dimensional (2D) topological materials in combination with superconductivity,” Tian says. “This could pave the way for more robust and error-resistant quantum computing. In simpler terms, it is like tweaking the fabric of a material to make it exhibit special features that are perfect for future advanced computing tasks.”
To aid his research efforts, Tian recently received a three-year, $561,835 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant for his project titled “Manipulating the topology and superconductivity in 2M-phase WX2 (X = S and Se).” The grant began Aug. 1 and ends July 31, 2026.
This funding is provided through DOE’s Office of Science. The office has a continuing interest in receiving grant applications for support of work in the following program areas: advanced scientific computing research; basic energy sciences; biological and environmental research; fusion energy science; high energy physics; nuclear physics; isotope research and development, and production; and accelerator research and development, and production.
Tian is the principal investigator on the project and will collaborate with Brian Leonard, a UW professor of chemistry, who will serve as co-investigator. The grant will support two graduate students and offers research opportunities for two undergraduates and two high school students, Tian says.
Topological superconductivity refers to a special type of superconducting phase, in which the material exhibits p-wave paring symmetry with unique topological properties, most notably the existence of exotic quasiparticles called Majorana zero modes (MZMs).
Given their resilience to noise, these MZMs could serve as foundational elements -- quantum bits, or “qubits” -- in the next-generation quantum computers.
“Imagine a library with regular books and special, indestructible books representing MZMs. While normal books can easily tear or get damaged, the special books are immune to coffee spills, tears or any damage,” Leonard says. “In the quantum world, we are trying to read and store delicate information. Topological superconductors offer us the ‘indestructible books’ that are more resistant to disturbances, making information encoding, storage and retrieval much more reliable.”
Tian says the goals of this research are:
-- Tailoring material properties by doping the 2D material with other elements, with the aim to control and modify its physical properties precisely.
-- Studying how to control phase transitions between states -- for example, transitioning from metallic/superconducting to semiconducting. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the material’s behavior.
-- Unlocking quantum potential by exploring novel quantum effects such as topological Josephson coupling in topological superconducting quantum devices. This could reveal unprecedented behaviors and capabilities of the 2D topological materials for applications in quantum science and technology.
This project possesses scientific and technical merits that align well with DOE’s mission to advance quantum information science for the United States’ national and economic security needs, according to the grant abstract.
“The expected outcomes of this project will fill the fundamental knowledge gap in the field of 2D topological superconductors and potentially create new research directions,” Leonard says. “Scientific conclusions will set the scientific and technical foundations for designing and fabricating future scalable topological quantum computers.”
Techniques developed and the knowledge gained through this research might attract tech companies to Wyoming, providing an opportunity for a state known for its natural resources to diversify and become competitive in the high-tech industry, Tian adds.