Feature Story

Rising talent in quantum computing: Meet early career researchers at QSA

The Quantum Systems Accelerator opens exciting opportunities

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA) prepares the next generation of scientists and engineers in quantum information science (QIS) and technology. Three early-career researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, one of 15 QSA partner institutions, shared their experiences about QSA's collaborative culture and how they've found the support in a diverse and inclusive atmosphere to advance their careers. 

Anthony Polloreno 

Anthony Polloreno is a doctoral candidate in theoretical physics who researches quantum information science and metrology -- the study of high-precision measurements at the tiniest scales for quantum systems. Polloreno works alongside researchers Graeme Smith and Ana Maria Rey at JILA, a joint institute between the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and NIST’s John Bollinger.

His interests in QIS started early as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, which is also a QSA partner institution, where Polloreno studied mathematics, physics, and computer science. He then worked at Rigetti Computing for a few years before pursuing a doctorate at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Q: What in particular inspires you about QIS? 

What inspires me most about this growing field are the significant collaborative efforts to build a quantum computer and develop quantum technologies. Quantum computers are an emerging technology that takes advantage of the physics we've developed in the past hundred years to perform calculations. 

My professional experience in the private sector helped me understand the great value of having theorists working alongside experimentalists. I'm now working out the details to characterize quantum systems, improve the schemes for error mitigation in realistic quantum devices, and find out where they are useful. 

Q: How has QSA broadened your research?

Many of my research collaborators are also members of QSA, so I am always informed about what is relevant and what needs to be further researched. This summer, I also did an internship at the Quantum Performance Laboratory at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia is Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's lead partner for QSA.

Q: What challenges you the most? 

The most challenging activities in my research are those that I like the most - interdisciplinary efforts. Working with other researchers on related projects but varying fields -  from quantum metrology to computation  - requires a large amount of flexibility. I have to learn how to synthesize new ideas that I may not be familiar with.

Q: Advice for fellow early-career researchers? 

Solicit opinions from experts in the field. I have had amazing mentors over the past several years. The quantum information community has been a very welcoming place to me, and I hope it continues to be in the coming years. If you're interested in learning more, think up some questions and send an email to someone.

Q: Advice for elementary and high school students?

The two most important things I've done in my career are asking questions and maintaining an interest in science and mathematics. So follow your passions early, and remember to avoid worrying about what other people think. There are no silly questions! It’s important to stay curious. 

Q: Looking ahead?

My short-term research goals are to graduate with my Ph.D. My long-term goals are to find a collaborative team that I can work with to develop quantum technologies. 

Diego Barberena 

Diego Barberena is also a doctoral candidate focusing on quantum metrology. His work takes inspiration from the JILA experimental groups, in particular the research groups of James Thompson and John Bollinger. Ana Maria Rey, a QSA researcher at JILA, serves as Barberena's academic advisor.  

The tipping point in Barberena's academic career emerged after a quantum optics class with experimental physicists. After that, he developed a fascination for blending theory with the lab’s experimental approaches. 

Q: What in particular inspires you about QIS? 

What intrigues me the most is how large-scale quantum entanglement is being leveraged as a resource for discovery and innovation. Researchers in the field continuously develop ingenious ideas, with experiments usually taking the forefront. With every development, new possibilities in quantum simulation, computation, and metrology open up. I wish to see where this field will advance in the future as more complex systems fall under quantum control (atoms, molecules, etc.). 

Q: How has QSA broadened your research?

I see the work I do at QSA as a very incipient subfield of engineering, where we are trying to design and construct various kinds of devices (sensors, simulators, and quantum computers). What distinguishes this subfield is that it exploits quantum mechanics to its full extent. So, whatever I end up working on, I'd like it to be applicable and valuable in an experimental setting. I think part of it is due to my experience with the different QSA projects I've been part of.

Having constant contact with the broader community through regular meetings and conversations is a very efficient way of transmitting ideas and developments, much quicker than reading a preprint. For example, in a recent instance, some of the ideas we discussed in our research groups were also being simultaneously addressed in other groups across QSA. We only found out through these open channels for collaboration. So, the time has come for everybody to experiment with them.

Q: What challenges you the most? 

Understanding what is currently possible with different quantum computing platforms and what could be possible in a few years. As a theorist, I sometimes like to let my thoughts run amok. While this is a valid and worthwhile way to engage with research that also leads to important results, at the end of the day, I need to ground these ideas if I want to see them implemented in the near term. It's always cool and inspiring to find out about advances from other groups in QSA working with other experimental platforms. 

Q: Advice for fellow early-career researchers? 

The field is still relatively emerging, so there is a lot to do. But, at the same time, I would tell them not to be afraid to change if they do not feel fulfilled by what they are doing. Amid all the things left to do in the field, something is sure to appeal to their sensibilities.

Q: Advice for elementary and high school students?

Follow your curiosity and interests, regardless of whether they're in STEM or not. Finding joy in what you do can be very fulfilling and motivating. Also, trying different things is helpful as it opens the road to new interests and activities that you may have previously been unaware of.

Q: Looking ahead?

In the near future, I want to finish my Ph.D. And in the medium to long term, I'd like to engage more with the community of physicists in Peru, my home country. There are very talented scientists and engineers in Peru and Latin America that can contribute a lot to the development of quantum technologies.

Maya Miklos 

Maya is a graduate student in Jun Ye’s research group. Ye is a QSA thrust lead, whose work includes building increasingly precise neutral atom systems. Miklos is part of a research team looking to generate quantum entanglement—getting a system of many atoms to talk to each other—which reduces the fundamental baseline noise floor of measurements on these systems.

She developed an interest in QIS during her undergraduate studies at Harvard University, after taking Mikhail Lukin’s class in quantum information theory. Captivated by the subject, Miklos worked at the Lukin Group at Harvard on quantum optics. Harvard is a QSA partner institution and Lukin is a thrust lead. 

Q: What in particular inspires you about QIS? 

This is a really cool area of research right now, especially because of the opportunities for collaboration between quantum information theorists and experimentalists. It's incredibly exciting that we can probe cutting-edge theoretical understanding of fundamental physics in a host of different applications—from the values of fundamental constants to the nature of interactions in an atomic sample—on a table-top experiment. 

Q: How has QSA broadened your research? 

I feel really lucky as a young grad student to learn from the mentors on my project and throughout JILA, and to have had such interesting conversations with peers at other QSA institutions. For instance, there's been a series of QSA talks on neutral atom research at JILA and Harvard/MIT. It's been exciting to hear what our colleagues are up to, and ideas from these talks have sparked discussions and ideas for new research directions in our lab. 

Q: What challenges you the most? 

The toughest thing for me is feeling I have so much to learn on so many different fronts. I’m trying to learn to build and lock a laser, and also to troubleshoot electronics, while understanding the big-picture physics and applications of our experiment. Although, it is exciting to step back after a year and realize that I have learned quite a bit, thanks to a host of teachers on my project. 

Q: Advice for fellow early-career researchers? 

One exciting thing about jumping into quantum information science is the field's interdisciplinary nature. This means that your past experience, no matter your background, is a valuable perspective in quantum information research. I came from more of a math and computer science background, and when I first started I found my experience useful even in an experimental setting. 

Q: Advice for elementary and high school students?

Ask lots of questions about whatever activities you love-- whether that's trying to understand the structure (or even the math) in music, or sports, or STEM. Let yourself explore and be curious about any hobbies or passions because this is exactly the same mindset we bring to the lab as physicists.

Q: Looking ahead?

It's my dream to keep doing exciting quantum optics research, and maybe even run my own research group one day. I've just finished the first year of my Ph.D., so thinking about life and a career after finishing my degree feels a long way away. 

IDEAS at QSA

Underlying all QSA activities is a steadfast commitment to support the growth of QIS and technology as a field that fosters innovation, engagement, equity, and safety for all with a special focus to supporting early-career researchers. This commitment is embodied in IDEAS, dedicated to the inclusion, diversity, equity, accountability, and solutions to advance all of these initiatives. For more information about QSA’s workforce and IDEAS resources, visit: 

https://quantumsystemsaccelerator.org/our-ecosystem/ 

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.

The Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA) is one of the five National Quantum Information Science Research Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and with Sandia National Laboratories as lead partner, QSA will catalyze national leadership in quantum information science to co-design the algorithms, quantum devices, and engineering solutions needed to deliver certified quantum advantage in scientific applications. QSA brings together dozens of scientists who are pioneers of many of today’s unique quantum engineering and fabrication capabilities. In addition to industry and academic partners across the world, 15 U.S. institutions are part of QSA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, University of Colorado at Boulder, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Caltech, Duke University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, UC Berkeley, University of Maryland, University of New Mexico, University of Southern California, UT Austin, and Canada’s Université de Sherbrooke. For more information, please visit

https://quantumsystemsaccelerator.org/


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