Professor Askari wins NSF Quantum Leap grant

August 28, 2019

Advancements in computational power over the past fifty years have mostly relied on shrinking the size of the transistor, the fundamental constituent element of the integrated circuits that make up computers. As we reach the physical limits of how small transistors can be, further progress depends on exploring new concepts. One of these concepts is quantum computing, in which the quantum state of individual quantum bits (qubits) is manipulated to achieve exponential speedup of computational performance. A critical challenge to quantum computing lies in the stability and manipulation of qubits, which are highly sensitive and easily perturbed by the environment.

Stephen Wu, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics, recently received a $1.5 million NSF Quantum Leap grant to combat this decoherence by designing a topological qubit that is protected from external perturbation by the topological nature of its constituent elements. Using a transistor-like device his lab created, mechanical strain is applied to layers of 2D materials that are as thin as a single atom to control and utilize the topological and superconducting nature of these materials to construct protected quantum bits. The topology of the materials provide greater stability for the highly sensitive qubits, mitigating the decoherence that poses a major obstacle to quantum computing. Hesam Askari, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and John Nichol, assistant professor of physics, are co-principal investigators.