University of Minnesota receives federal grant to study disorder in quantum systems

Findings could help develop new materials for quantum computing

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/06/2018) — The University of Minnesota announced today that it has received $1 million over the next four years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fundamental quantum research that will help develop materials that could someday be used in quantum computing.

The team, consisting of mathematician Svitlana Mayboroda at the University of Minnesota and materials scientists Jim Speck and Claude Weisbuch at the University of California – Santa Barbara, is one of only 25 nationwide to receive a grant under NSF’s Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering-Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (RAISE-TAQS) effort that will help enable the United States to lead a new quantum technology revolution.

Many of today's technologies rely on the interaction of matter and energy at extremely small scales. Quantum mechanics studies nature at such scales— at least a million times smaller than the width of a human hair—allowing researchers to observe, manipulate and control the behavior of particles. Next-generation technologies for communication, computing and sensing will exploit interactions among particles in quantum systems, offering the promise of dramatic increases in accuracy and efficiency.

The team will study the hidden structures of disorder in quantum systems. The objective of this grant is to test whether the electronic quantum states in gallium nitride (GaN)-based alloys, which are localized due to the natural disorder of the alloy, can be used as a possible solution for being the quantum “bits” of a future quantum computer.

“Basically, we are testing the capability of this solid state material to be the ‘hardware’ of a quantum computer,” said Svitlana Mayboroda, a University of Minnesota Northrop Professor in the School of Mathematics who is the lead PI on the research grant. “We are trying to isolate electrons one from another (in these localized quantum states), thus reducing and controlling their interactions, which is needed for quantum bits used in quantum computing.”

In mathematics, that research means a rigorous and delicate control of the impact of geometric and operator complexity and irregularity on waves of matter, in particular, on certain aspects of their localization properties.

The NSF RAISE-TAQS effort is at the intersection of multiple disciplines and is designed to encourage scientists to pursue exploratory, cutting-edge concepts. It is meant to build a strong community of team participants who have demonstrated a readiness to examine a broad range of scientific and engineering topics related to quantum technologies.

In addition to mathematicians at the University of Minnesota, the grant includes researchers in the Materials Department at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). The collaboration will include Ph.D. students and post-doctoral researchers from both universities to develop reliable mathematical models of electron quantum behavior in disordered semiconductors such as GaN-based alloys, as well as test these models on nitride-based materials and devices.

“The quantum revolution is about expanding the definition of what’s possible for the technology of tomorrow,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “NSF-supported researchers are working to deepen our understanding of quantum mechanics and apply that knowledge to create world-changing applications. These new investments will position the U.S. to be a global leader in quantum research and development and help train the next generation of quantum researchers.”

To see a complete list of all RAISE-TAQS grantees, visit the NSF website.