Quantum information science is going to change the world. Being able to manipulate and control individual atoms and other microscopic systems to do jobs in communications, sensing and computation will have an impact on nearly every aspect of our daily lives. And, for the University of New Mexico's Center for Quantum Information & Control (CQuIC), a new multi-million-dollar grant will allow UNM to continue at the forefront of this innovative field.
"Our particular emphasis is on control of the behavior of quantum systems," said Carlton Caves, Distinguished Professor of Physics & Astronomy and the Center's director. "Broadly speaking, we are involved in trying to make systems at the microscopic and nanoscopic level do jobs that we want them to do, instead of just doing what comes naturally."
The $2.2 million, five-year award from the National Science Foundation makes CQuIC a Focused Research Hub in Theoretical Physics, one of only two in the United States. It's not only an exciting designation, but it will allow UNM researchers the opportunity to delve more deeply into quantum science and to make new progress toward the goal of quantum computing.
"The competition for the FRHTP was stiff," said Ivan Deutsch, a CQuIC faculty member and Regents' Professor of Physics & Astronomy. "We are the sole recipients in quantum information. This award lays a foundation for the future of our center."
To understand what quantum information and computing entails, one must first have an understanding of how current computers operate. Essentially, computers, and the transistors that power them, run on a binary system of ones and zeros - on and off. This binary system follows the traditional laws of logic and classical physics when processing information.
As computers continue to get smaller and smarter, the technology begins to reach its natural limit. Computer chips are now engineered on a nanoscale and are becoming so small they look like individual atoms. And, while those atoms are capable of incredible computing power, their behavior follows a peculiarly quantum version of logic that requires a new language to describe, the language of quantum physics.
"This quantum world is governed by entirely different laws of physics, which lead to counterintuitive effects. It is a world of quantum logic, where true and false can exist simultaneously in a 'superposition state' and where particles are entangled and linked inextricably together," explained Deutsch. "We have come to understand that this 'Alice in Wonderland' quantum world opens the door to new possibilities for information processing power, where computers could break existing secret codes and new quantum secret codes could be developed that are fundamentally unbreakable. New drugs could even be designed on a quantum computer."
CQuIC, which was formed in 2009, is based at UNM with an extension at the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona. Researchers at the two institutions, along with partners at Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, work together on both the theoretical aspects of quantum information and with the experimental part of the puzzle. Caves says this cooperation, combined with the new NSF grant, sets CQuIC apart from its competitors and will allow CQuIC's faculty and students to continue to make serious progress in the field - and, one day, change the world.