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Physics Professor to Help Shape the Future of Computing, Information Processing

DOE Awards $1.9 Million for Research on Quantum Technologies

Archana Kamal of Physics Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre

Physics Asst. Prof. Archana Kamal is conducting research on the emerging field of quantum information science (QIS). Quantum technologies have the potential to revolutionize the Information Age.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Asst. Prof. Archana Kamal of the Department of Physics and Applied Physics has won two grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to expand her research into the emerging field of quantum information science (QIS). The grants, totaling nearly $1.9 million, will fund research that could help spur advances in everything from information processing to our understanding of gravity and cosmic evolution.  

The first grant, worth $1.5 million, was awarded through the DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program. It will enable Kamal, who is the project's principal investigator, and her partners at the NIST Boulder Laboratories and Raytheon BBN Technologies to develop quantum technologies that can ultimately form the foundation for the next generation of computing and information processing, as well as other innovative technologies.

This award is one of 27 BES grants that the DOE has given to universities and national laboratories. Aside from UMass Lowell, the other universities include Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, Caltech, Purdue, the University of Southern California, UCLA and the University of Chicago. The researchers will work on projects ranging from developing hardware and software for quantum computers to the synthesis and characterization of new materials with special quantum properties, as well as applying QIS techniques in probing cosmic phenomena such as “dark matter” and black holes.

The DOE expects that QIS research will lead to new medical, national security and scientific applications and that future quantum computers will eventually be able to solve large, highly complex problems beyond the capacity of today’s most powerful supercomputers.

The second grant, worth about $360,000 and awarded through the DOE’s High-Energy Physics (HEP) program, was given to Kamal and UML physics Asst. Prof. Nishant Agarwal, who is the principal investigator for the HEP project,  as well as to co-investigators from Penn State University and UMass Boston. The aim of this program is to extend QIS-inspired studies to gravity and the evolution of the early universe.

Nishant Agarwal of Physics Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
Kamal will work with UML Physics Asst. Prof. Nishant Agarwal, as well as collaborators from Penn State University and UMass Boston to extend QIS-inspired studies to gravity and the evolution of the early universe.

“As advances in nanotechnology drive the miniaturization of electronics, quantum effects – which once appeared only in thought experiments – are now being tested for real-world applications,” says Kamal.

A Global Innovator and Visionary

Kamal leads the QUEST (QUantum Engineering Science and Technology) Group at UMass Lowell, which focuses on building quantum processors that can be engineered like classical computers, while intrinsically behaving quantum-mechanically like atoms. Her work has enabled noise-resilient artificial atoms called quantum bits or “qubits” (the basic unit of quantum information) that can encode and preserve data long enough for processing, as well as new measurement protocols that can read out and amplify quantum information with high efficiency. 

“Our ultimate goal is to enable quantum technologies that can form the backbone of future quantum computers, which hold out the promise of offering unprecedented advantages over their classical counterparts,” says Kamal.

The BES grant will allow Kamal and her co-researchers from QUEST, NIST’s Advanced Microwave Photonics Group and BBN’s Quantum Engineering and Computing Group to develop new protocols for generating “entangled states,” which form the foundation for quantum information processing technologies. Entangled states are special quantum states in which the information is encoded or hidden in correlations between two or more systems, such that each system can access only partial information or none at all.

“Using an analogy put forward by Prof. John Preskill of Caltech, an entangled system can be thought of as a book full of information. An ordinary book can be read page by page. But in this quantum book, if you try to read each page individually, you get gibberish because the information is hidden in how the different pages are correlated to each other,” explains Kamal.

“Entangled states however are especially fragile in the face of decoherence, a phenomenon that can be viewed as the loss of information from a quantum system into the environment,” Kamal says. The BES grant will enable the team to develop and test protocols for generating entanglement that is stable and inherently robust against decoherence.

“This is one of the biggest challenges in the path toward scalable quantum computing,” she adds.

The importance of Kamal’s research was recognized by MIT Technology Review, which selected her as one of 2018’s Innovators Under 35 in the “Visionaries” category.