Five fellows comprise the first cohort of Stanford’s new Bloch Fellowship in quantum science and engineering. The fellows program is a central component of the Stanford-SLAC initiative known as Q-FARM, which aims to advance a second wave of discovery and innovation in quantum mechanics through interdisciplinary collaborations.
The theory of quantum mechanics helps explain the natural properties of matter and light on atomic and subatomic scales, and serves as the basis for technologies such as lasers and semiconductor-based electronics. A second wave of innovation and discovery in the field is now underway, with new knowledge about quantum theory inspiring even broader applications of this research.
"One of the driving forces behind the second wave is a surprising convergence of physics, electrical engineering, computer science and mathematics," said Jelena Vuckovic , the Jensen Huang Professor of Global Leadership in Stanford’s School of Engineering, and Patrick Hayden , a professor of quantum physics at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, who co-direct.
To advance quantum research during this exciting time, and help bridge Stanford’s physics and engineering departments, the university is launching a new postdoctoral fellows program named after Felix Bloch, who was a theoretical physicist at Stanford and the university’s first Nobel Prize winner.
The Bloch fellowship is awarded by the Q-FARM (Quantum Fundamentals, Architecture and Machines) initiative, which launched last year. Q-FARM emerged from Stanford’s long-range planning process as part of a team focused on understanding the natural world. The initiative seeks to utilize the resources of both Stanford and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to accelerate quantum research.
Bridging quantum physics and engineering
Up to six fellows will be selected each year for a 2-3 year appointment, based on strong research proposals and previous accomplishments in the field. They are then jointly advised by at least two faculty members, which in most cases hail from different departments and schools, to foster interdisciplinary collaborations. The first cohort of Bloch fellows was appointed this year and includes postdocs studying topics ranging from the fundamentals of quantum theory to computing and sensing applications.
"These first five fellows had innovative proposals that connect research groups and establish collaborations that didn’t exist previously," said Vuckovic. "We also picked candidates who span all areas of Q-FARM: from theory to experiment, from algorithms to devices and circuits, from science to engineering."
The Q-FARM directors hope this diversity of interests and collaboration between departments will seed more creative projects and build lasting connections. The result will be a new generation of quantum scientists and engineers for academia and industry that honors the fellowship’s namesake.
Building on Bloch’s legacy
The Fellowship was named after Felix Bloch, a Swiss-American physicist who joined the Department of Physics at Stanford in 1934. He became Stanford’s first Nobel Laureate when he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952, together with Edward Purcell, for their work on nuclear magnetic induction.
Bloch left Stanford during World War II, going on to serve as the first director-general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN, but eventually returned to the university to continue teaching physics, becoming a professor emeritus in 1971.
"We thought that it would be highly appropriate to name our quantum science and engineering fellows after Felix Bloch, because of his strong connection to Stanford and to quantum science," said Vuckovic. "The idea received enthusiastic approval from both university leadership and Felix Bloch’s family."
Vuckovic and Hayden are hopeful that, like Bloch himself, the Bloch fellows will contribute to a new era of quantum research in Stanford’s physics and engineering departments and create additional opportunities for those who will follow.
Crystal defects in solids like diamond can behave much like isolated atoms when interacting with light. Researchers like Aghaeimeibodi can control the rates of these interactions by carving nanometer-scale structures around the defects, which helps them understand the light-matter interface.
"This research is a multidisciplinary effort requiring expertise in quantum physics, material science and photonics," Aghaeimeibodi said. "The Bloch fellowship creates a unique opportunity to work with a diverse team of world-renowned scientists in these areas and to have access to the state-of-the-art research facilities at Stanford."
The sub-micron structuring of matter allows scientists like Ansari to control light in large and complex networks for quantum computation and sensing. Research in scalable optical networks could lead to more efficient computers and more precise measurements.
"Making this happen requires a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort between physicists, electrical engineers and computer scientists," said Ansari. "The Bloch fellowship at Stanford provides me with the opportunity to bring all these elements together while working with some of the best minds around the world."
Quantum computers and circuits are complex and made of thousands of components. This makes them error-prone, as some element is almost guaranteed to fail. Krishna’s research in quantum computation examines different approaches to quantum error correction and analyzes the trade-offs to determine which are most successful in the long-term, the short-term and when one approach should be used over another.
"As a Bloch fellow at Stanford, I will tackle these questions together with the teams of Professor Mary Wootters (EE/CS) and Professor Patrick Hayden (Physics)," said Krishna. "I’m honored to receive this prestigious fellowship and I’m looking forward to working at Stanford."
Quantum information is the best way to describe systems in which particles strongly interact with one another. By exploiting phenomena such as ASE quantum entanglement, Rakovsky seeks to identify universal characteristics of quantum states of matter and how quantum correlations evolve from an initial state that is far from thermal equilibrium.
"My research largely focuses on the intersection between the theory of quantum information and condensed matter physics," said Rakovsky. "It has only recently become possible to study these situations experimentally, and there are many fundamental questions that are still waiting to be answered."
The phases of matter taught in school are generally confined to liquid, solid, or gas. But in quantum physics, objects like massive black holes and tiny quarks boast phases that are much more diverse and exotic. Zou is researching the ways that quantum entanglement and tensor networks can describe the universal features underlying quantum phases and phase transitions.
"Receiving the Bloch Fellowship at Stanford gives me opportunities to collaborate with world-leading physicists," said Zou. "Stanford is a fantastic place for fusing ideas from different subfields, such as quantum physics, condensed matter, and high-energy physics, which are essential ingredients that help us achieve a better understanding of the phases of matter."