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W.M. Keck Foundation Grants $1 Million to University of Denver for Quantum Science and Computing

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The University of Denver and Colorado School of Mines have received a highly prestigious $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in support of an inter-university research project that could potentially culminate in a new path toward quantum computing.

The work of Mark Siemens, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the College of Natural Science and Mathematics at DU, and Mark Lusk, professor in the Department of Physics at Colorado School of Mines, explores the possibility of using a laser beam as the medium for quantum science.

"This new connection is really exciting for us,” Siemens said. “It could launch a new age of accessibility for quantum science and, ultimately, computing. Imagine doing quantum measurements and calculations with a glorified laser pointer!"

Emerging quantum technologies rely on creating, preserving and manipulating very delicate states of quantum matter. Unfortunately, these states only exist at ultra-cold temperatures, a substantial impediment for widespread technological application.

Siemens and Lusk realized, though, that they could leverage the advanced state of laser technology to make similar optical architectures that are robust even at room temperature. Their idea is to engineer very small structures right into the laser beam that behave like the exotic particles currently being considered for use in quantum computing.

“Light with such detailed architecture has a complicated fluid-like behavior reminiscent of many small whirlpools interacting on the surface of a pond,” Lusk said. “We’re calling this topological fluids of light (TFL) because the laser whirlpools are topologically stable, a key property for the storage and manipulation of information.”

Their investigation seeks to determine and control the fundamental working properties of TFL to explore room-temperature quantum sciences using laser light.

Jasmine Andersen, a condensed matter physics graduate student at DU, credits this project with deepening her understanding of a successful academic research process. “I saw the evolution of the material, including lots of progression in both our understanding of the science and how to effectively communicate that,” said Andersen. “Knowing what it takes and what it looks like to be successful in this aspect of academic research will have a lasting impact throughout my career. I am grateful for what I have learned in this process and look forward to working on this research for the remainder of my Ph.D.”

The project is a result of a collaboration between physicists at the two Denver metro institutions, creating a sound environment for rigorous scientific exploration. Siemens is an experimental physicist whose laser lab at DU will be doing the precise manipulation and propagation of designer laser beams (including the optical whirlpools needed to generate TFL), while Lusk is a quantum field theorist who will focus on the fundamental properties of TFL.

“We at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics are extremely proud of our faculty and their interdisciplinary collaborative research,” said Andrei Kutateladze, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “With this generous award from the Keck Foundation, Prof. Siemens and his collaborator at Colorado School of Mines, Prof. Lusk, will undoubtedly move science and technology forward and have major impact on one of the most pressing areas of quantum information science. This partnership between two of the region’s great universities is a new norm; it elevates both schools and the visibility of fundamental sciences programs at DU and Mines.”

“Innovation and collaboration lie at the heart of the DU experience,” said Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. “This grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation recognizes our collaborative work around complex topics with real-world impact. At the University of Denver, we are proud to create knowledge that will solve some of society’s greatest issues.”  

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering. The Foundation also maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth. For more information, please visit www.wmkeck.org.