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UW’s Tian Receives NSF Grant to Study, Bolster Quantum Information Science and Engineering

August 24, 2022
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Jifa Tian

Jifa Tian, an assistant professor in the University of Wyoming’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, received a $5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Expanding Capacity in Quantum Information Science and Engineering (QISE) grant designed to develop research and education capacities in this emerging field at UW through a collaboration with Purdue University, where QISE research and education programs are already well established.

“The outcomes of this collaborative research are not only expected to fundamentally advance the field of nano and quantum sciences, but also to positively impact material science, engineering, and quantum industry and society as a whole,” says Tian, the grant’s principal investigator.

The five-year research grant is for a project titled “ExpandQISE: Track 2: Developing Research and Education Programs in Quantum Information Science and Engineering with Research on Locally Tunable 2D Topological Superconductors.” The grant begins Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 31, 2027. Of the total grant amount, $1.5 million will go to project collaborators at Purdue University.

Other UW project team members are TeYu Chien, an associate professor of physics and astronomy; Yuri Dahnovsky and Jinke Tang, both professors of physics and astronomy; and Suresh Muknahallipatna, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Using quantum states to manipulate information is one of the most important next-generation computing approaches. It is expected to exceed conventional computing capabilities in the near future. The development of QISE is, thus, highly crucial to maintain economic competitiveness and sustain national security, Tian says.

The unit used to store and manipulate information in a quantum state is called a quantum bit, or qubit. While a qubit typically requires an extremely low temperature to operate to reduce influence from environmental noise, the topology-protected quantum state poses high hopes to tolerate environmental noise to ensure high-fidelity quantum computing, Tian says.

The research project of this grant aims to develop topological qubits for future topological quantum computing. With the rapid development in QISE, workforce training capacity needs to catch up to support sustainable QISE development. The educational portion of this grant aims to develop QISE training programs at UW.

“This project will conduct a cutting-edge research project manipulating the coupling between electronic, structural and topological degrees of freedom in atomically thin topological superconductors, and design and fabricate novel topological Josephson junction architectures for future topological quantum computing,” Tian says. “We also will develop education programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to foster a future workforce in the QISE field at UW and across the state.”

Theoretical analysis and modeling also will be performed to fundamentally understand the physics of topological superconductivity and Majorana fermions, which are fermions that are their own antiparticle. Their movements are governed by non-Abelian statistics.

This contribution is significant because it is expected to bring about a new paradigm of designing and fabricating topological Josephson junctions and revolutionize the use of intrinsic 2D topological superconductor atomic layers as the building blocks for realizing topological qubit operations for future fault-tolerant quantum computers. A Josephson junction is known as a superconductor-insulator-superconductor junction with a weak link.  

Additionally, the research is expected to break the existing knowledge barrier, increase participation among underrepresented groups, and build the critical mass of research and education in QISE in Wyoming; as well as set up a national educational model for expanding QISE-related research and education activities in the country’s rural regions and/or institutions with no or underdeveloped QISE programs.

“The proposed academic degree programs and workforce development plan in QISE at UW will offer unique research and educational experiences for students in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and electrical engineering and computer science,” says Tang, head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Graduate training will be enhanced by using advanced facilities at UW and our collaborators and partners, including Purdue University and national laboratories, such as Argonne National Laboratory. Students also will receive research and training opportunities from our quantum industry partners.”  

The grant will support one postdoctoral researcher, five UW graduate students and four UW undergraduate students. Student roles will include developing technologies to locally manipulate the topological superconductivity in 2D topological superconductors for future topological quantum computing applications and understanding the corresponding quantum physics of topological Josephson junctions and qubits, Tian says.

“I’m so pleased to see this NSF ExpandQISE award to Professor Tian and our great team,” says UW President Ed Seidel. “This area of science has the potential to revolutionize computing, and UW is poised to help lead this field, train our students in such an exciting area, and bring academic and corporate partners to Wyoming.” 

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