Quantum Leaps

Oct 21 2020

Monolayer WSe2 hosting “composite fermions,” a quasi-particle that forms due to strong interactions between electrons and is responsible for the sequence of fractional quantum Hall states.

There's much excitement about how quantum computers will transform communications technology. They may also very well hold a key to combating climate change. With their unparalleled computing power, quantum machines could allow researchers to finally construct the kind of supercharged simulations needed to develop the most energy efficient systems, by, say, vastly improving superconductors or better replicating natural processes. But to build scalable quantum computers—by nature a staggeringly delicate operation—we first must build a whole new material base for computing. Recently, faculty in mechanical engineering reported three such breakthroughs in 2D materials.

In a first, James Schuck and colleagues demonstrated a method for creating highly tunable single-photon emitters, which are functional even at room temperature (critical for many quantum-computation approaches). James Hone’s group devised a new method for creating atomically thin layers stackable in any desired order and orientation. Hone also co-discovered a quantum fluid in a 2D semiconductor, establishing 2D conductors as a unique testbed for future applications.

Engineering our way from fundamental science to networking devices is an intensively collaborative endeavor. Among the first class selected for federal quantum research funding since announcement of the National Quantum Initiative, our faculty earned two NSF grants to expand what’s possible in partnership with university physicists.

Alexander L. Gaeta and Michal Lipson of applied physics and electrical engineering are helping pursue a new approach to attaining highly entangled photon states, while Nanfang Yu of applied physics is part of a team that could deliver a paradigm shift in interfacing light with complex 3D atomic lattices.

Such progress is spurred by new intellectual infrastructure. Recently, the university was named a partner in the Co-design Center for Quantum Advantage, which seeks to develop materials, devices, software, and applications that will serve as a platform for the next-generation of quantum computing capabilities.

The university also joined forces with the Flatiron Institute and Germany’s Max Planck Society to establish the Max Planck – New York City Center for Nonequilibrium Quantum Phenomena. With joint research appointments for faculty, postdocs, and graduate students, the center leverages Columbia’s world class capabilities in materials synthesis and optics. By manipulating unstable quantum states and controlling these phenomena in complex, customizable materials, we can revolutionize not just computing, but also sensing, cryptography, and a host of technologies yet to be dreamt of.