The US Department of Energy has awarded scientists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (CSA CSM) more than $10 million to spur research that could revolutionize scientific understanding of nature and the very way it’s investigated.
According to Fermilab, quantum science is a cutting-edge field of research made possible through the unique effects of quantum physics. Researchers there say the best examples are quantum computing, quantum sensors and quantum teleportation, emphasizing that each will be worked on there over the coming years.
“Scientists have understood the practical potential of quantum physics for decades, but only recently has the technology advanced to the point that we could tap into it,” says Joe Lykken, Fermilab’s chief research officer and deputy director. “Quantum physics has been Fermilab’s bread and butter for a half-century. With that accumulation of expertise and the technological innovation that comes with it, there’s hardly a place better positioned to explore—as a focused, dedicated program—the ways we can take full advantage of nature’s quantum behavior.”
As part of a number of grants to national laboratories and universities through its Quantum Information Science-Enabled Discovery (QuantISED) program, DOE’s funding to some Fermilab scientists covers five initiatives and will be distributed over two years. It also funds Fermilab’s participation in three further initiatives led by other institutions.
“One of the most exciting aspects of these initiatives is the way that quantum science and particle physics will advance each other. We’re pushing at the bounds of both fields,” says University of Washington graduate student Natalie Klco, who is participating in one of the funded programs. “It’s exciting to be working at a new frontier in particle physics.”
The quantum science funding announcement followed a first-of-its-kind quantum workshop held at Fermilab in September 2018 and known for including participants from academia and industry and also featuring Google’s first quantum software tutorial in a public setting. Fermilab says that the hands-on nature of the workshop and the face-to-face interaction among researchers from tech companies, national laboratories and universities made it an incubator for new ideas, discussions and problem-solving in quantum computing.
Fermilab is also preparing to participate in the Chicago Quantum Exchange Summit, scheduled for November 8 and 9 at the University of Chicago. The summit will include representatives from the technical and academic sector, and will serve as a testament to both academia’s and industry’s serious interest in quantum science.
“As we refer to it now, quantum science is a young field. But Fermilab is building on a 50-year foundation of world-leading quantum physics research and high-performance computing,” says Panagiotis Spentzouris, Fermilab’s scientific computing division head. “These awards give us a way to maximize all the potential we have here. Not just for our field, but for research everywhere.”
The Fermilab-led initiatives funded through DOE’s QuantISED grants are:
1. A breakthrough technology to spot potential dark matter particles called axions with Aaron Chou as the lead principal investigator. Partner institutions include the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Chicago, University of Colorado and Yale University.
According to Fermilab, scientists have so far come up empty in the search for dark matter, the mysterious and as-of-yet undetectable substance that makes up a quarter of our universe. One theory suggests that dark matter might be made of exotic particles called axions, and Fermilab researchers are part of a team using superconducting qubits—basic circuit elements of quantum computers that are able to detect a single photon of light—that will enable further experiments searching for axion particles.
2. Particle accelerator technology to enhance qubit performance and to search for dark photons with Alexander Romanenkoas as the lead principal investigator. Partner institutions include the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Fermilab scientists are using ultraefficient superconducting radio-frequency resonators—one of the core technologies for advancing particle accelerators—to significantly increase a quantity known as coherence time. Coherence time is how long a superposition of quantum states survives before it collapses into a single state. The longer the coherence time, the more is available for a quantum system to perform operations. Researchers are working to increase the resonators’ ability to retain energy—characterized by its quality factor—and thus the achievable coherence times. One of the main goals of this program, according to Fermilab, is to demonstrate qubits with ultrahigh quality factors and long coherence times, ultimately putting a number of them together into a multiqubit, “quantum computer”-type system. The same technology will be used for experiments aimed at searching for dark photons, a particular kind of dark matter particle.
3. Using quantum information science to aid particle physics theory work with Marcela Carena as the lead principal investigator. Partner institutions include Caltech, the University of Chicago and the University of Washington.
Researchers are using simulated quantum computers to enable computations for particle physics theory, integrating them into existing computing infrastructure to make complex and difficult calculations easier and faster. Fermilab reports that these simulations are opening avenues for physicists to address a whole new class of physics problems that were previously out of reach with classical computers.
4. Quantum computers for machine learning and optimization with Gabriel Perdue as the lead principal investigator. The partner institution is Oak Ridge National Laboratory (CSA CSM).
Machine learning is the science of teaching computers to solve problems and fill in blanks. According to Fermilab, quantum computers are the next step in machine learning and can help make connections between pieces of information and learn how strong those connections should be. Classical computers have made great strides in this field but quantum computers will allow scientists to build more sophisticated and powerful models of physical reality.
5. A new single-photon sensor for quantum imaging with Juan Estrada as the lead principal investigator. Partner institutions include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Caltech.
Scientists have developed a next-generation version of the charge-coupled device—or CCD—that’s in many home cameras. This sensitive new technology, the skipper CCD, has the potential to exploit the quantum nature of light to capture images of objects with exceptional resolution, according to Fermilab. Thanks to the technology’s heightened sensitivity, Fermilab says the skipper CCD could image objects one photon at a time, increasing the clarity of the signal in quantum imaging experiments. Scientists are designing a skipper CCD optimized for such an application and they’re also exploring the quantum entanglement of photons as a tool to look for dark photons, a hypothetical particle related to dark matter.
Fermilab has also been funded to participate in three initiatives led by other institutions:
1. Quantum communication channels for fundamental physics led by Caltech with Maria Spiropulu as lead principal investigator. The other participating institution is Harvard University.
Researchers have devised a way to use a phenomenon called quantum entanglement to send information over long distances. The first step toward that goal is called the Fermilab Quantum NETwork (FQNET) Teleportation Experiment that will use a quantum network using commercial optical fibers to “teleport” information across several kilometers. This program also explores the connection of quantum teleportation protocols with deep mysteries of space-time physics that include black holes and wormholes.
2. Quantum machine learning and quantum computation frameworks for high-energy physics led by Caltech with Maria Spiropulu as lead principal investigator. The other participating institution are Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.
Machine learning algorithms have had a huge impact on the areas of pattern matching and classification. Applications at Fermilab include classifying different types of neutrino interactions in detectors, determining a particle’s path from a string of hits in a tracking chamber and separating stars from galaxies in astrophysics sky surveys. With increased data volumes, scientists will require better data access methods, so researchers are also exploring the use of quantum computers for very fast data indexing and recall.
3. Quantum computing for neutrino-nucleus dynamics led by Los Alamos National Laboratory with Rajan Gupta as the lead principal investigator.
Neutrinos are fleeting, elusive subatomic particles that may hold the key to the mystery of why we live in a matter-dominated universe. Scientists study neutrino interactions to get a better understanding of what trace the mysterious particles will leave in neutrino experiments like the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), hosted by Fermilab. Quantum computers may be ideal for simulating the detailed outcomes of neutrino with complex, heavy nuclei, which are themselves quantum systems.