The Quantum Pontiff

The University of Marland’s Joint Quantum Institute has won an NSF Physics Frontier Center. $12.5 million over five years. This is the first frontier center devoted exclusively to quantum information science. Congrats to UM! Press release below the fold.

UM Awarded $12.5 Million for Research Center at Frontier of Quantum Physics

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The National Science Foundation has awarded the Joint Quantum Institute $12.5 million over five years to create and operate a Physics Frontier Center at the University of Maryland. The Joint Quantum Institute is a partnership between the university and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The center will pursue cutting-edge investigations of quantum science – the bizarre behavior of matter and energy at nature’s smallest scales – with an emphasis on the fundamental physics of quantum information and quantum computing.

The Physics Frontier Center (PFC) award, effective September 1, 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.” Ultimately the work may lead to development of a computer that exploits the strange phenomena of quantum mechanics to do certain tasks, such as huge database searches and unbreakable data encryption, exponentially faster than even the best conventional computers.

“The university is very excited about this new center and its future discoveries and applications of quantum phenomena,” said University of Maryland President C. D. Mote, Jr. “The award is a credit to the reputation of our Joint Quantum Institute.

“This is a banner day for quantum science and technology,” he said.

Joe Dehmer, director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Physics, said: “The mission of the Physics Frontiers Centers is to advance the frontier across fields of physics as diverse as quantum optics and the physics of living centers. Another significant impact PFCs have is to be a talent magnet for students, postdocs, and other excited young physicists.

“Promising young talent and important new advances can be expected, and we look forward to both from Maryland’s PFC,” Dehmer said.

At the Frontier of Quantum Computing

The Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) was founded in September 2006 as a collaboration between the University of Maryland and the NIST, with additional support from the Laboratory for Physical Sciences, a government facility in College Park. JQI has an annual budget of $6 million that underwrites the work of 26 Fellows, half of whom are Maryland faculty.

Luis Orozco, a JQI Fellow and University of Maryland physics professor will co-direct the new Physics Frontier Center together with JQI Fellow and Nobel laureate William D. Phillips of NIST and the University of Maryland. The center will be guided by a Research Council made up Orozco, Phillips, plus Sankar Das Sarma and Christopher Monroe, JQI Fellows from Maryland’s department of physics, and NIST JQI Fellow Glenn Solomon.

Joint Quantum Institute researchers spent about a year writing and refining their proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the nation’s major funding agency for non-medical scientific research. There are nine other NSF Physics Frontier Centers 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 Physics Frontier Center will meet those standards by developing a cross-disciplinary approach to fundamental understanding and control of “coherence” and “entanglement” — two fundamental elements of the physics of quantum information and quantum computing. Coherence is the fragile quantum condition in which objects exist in a “superposition” of multiple states at the same time. Entanglement is an effect of quantum mechanics that connects individual particles and blurs the distinction between them such that it is impossible to describe the particles separately no matter how far apart you physically move them.

In this work, the center will emphasize research at the increasingly busy intersection of two traditionally separate areas: atomic, molecular and optical physics, the field that produced the laser and the MRI; and condensed-matter physics, which produced the transistor and superconducting materials.

Maryland’s Physics Frontier Center will share office and administrative space with JQI on the second floor of university’s Computer and Space Sciences building, which is being refurbished with new laboratories and other facilities. Temporary contact information is available on the web at http://www.jqi.umd.edu/pfchome.html.