Maryland Quantum Alliance Launched

The Maryland Quantum Alliance—a regional consortium of quantum scientists and engineers from across academia, national laboratories and industry—launched on January 29, 2020 with an event in the House of Delegates Office Building, and was recognized on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates. Members of this alliance will drive quantum science discovery and innovation, develop pioneering quantum technologies and train the quantum workforce of tomorrow for the state of Maryland, the region and the nation. 

The announcement comes at a pivotal time when quantum science research is expanding beyond physics into materials science, engineering, computer science and chemistry. Scientists across these disciplines are finding ways to exploit quantum physics to build powerful computers, develop secure communication networks and improve sensing capabilities. In the future, quantum technology may also impact fields like artificial intelligence and medicine. 

The state of Maryland already leads the way in this crucial transition, with an existing workforce that spans academia, government and private-sector companies. Scientists and engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park and other institutions in the state and region already are collaborating across these areas to tackle the challenges associated with deploying quantum technology. 

“With our great strength in quantum science, computing and innovation, we are well positioned to lead this initiative,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “By combining the strength of neighboring universities, federal labs and businesses, this initiative can make the whole region into a quantum powerhouse.”

Already a major hub for quantum science and technology, UMD hosts five collaborative research centers focused on different aspects of quantum science and technology: The Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS) are collaborations with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Quantum Technology Center (QTC) brings together UMD engineers and physicists to work on translating quantum physics into transformational new technologies. The Condensed Matter Theory Center has made pioneering contributions to topological approaches to quantum computing, and the Quantum Materials Center explores superconductors and novel quantum materials to enable new technology devices.  

UMD played a key role in advocating for last year’s National Quantum Initiative Act that positions quantum information science and technology at the top of the U.S. science and technology agenda and provides $1.275 billion over five years for research. The university also is part of the Quantum Information Edge, a new nationwide alliance of U.S. national labs, universities and industry launched to advance the frontiers of quantum computing systems.

Maryland Quantum Alliance is currently comprised of the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Morgan State University; Johns Hopkins University; George Mason University; The MITRE Corporation; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; CCDC Army Research Laboratory; Northrop Grumman; Lockheed Martin; IonQ; Qrypt; Booz Allen Hamilton; and Amazon Web Services.

In the alliance, government and academic researchers will look for new ways to work with companies both large and small to support steady progress on quantum technology research and enable its move into the marketplace. 

"Quantum information science will provide important capabilities for our Warfighter,” said Dr. Pat Baker, CCDC Army Research Laboratory Director. “We are excited about a Maryland Quantum Alliance of strong regional institutions in this field to help accelerate research and transformational impact as part of persistent Army modernization."

Maryland Quantum Alliance members will also work on developing cross-disciplinary educational programs in physics, engineering, materials science and computer science that will produce the necessary workforce educated in quantum science. 

Original story by Lee Tune This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 301-405-4679

Catching New Patterns of Swirling Light Mid-flight

In many situations, it’s fair to say that light travels in a straight line without much happening along the way. But light can also hide complex patterns and behaviors that only a careful observer can uncover.

This is possible because light behaves like a wave, with properties that play a role in several interesting phenomena. One such property is phase, which measures where you are on an undulating wave—whether you sit at a peak, a trough or somewhere in between. When two (otherwise identical) light waves meet and are out of phase, they can interfere with one another, combining to create intricate patterns. Phase is integral to how light waves interact with each other and how energy flows in a beam or pulse of light.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, led by UMD Physics Professor Howard Milchberg, have discovered novel ways that the phase of light can form optical whorls—patterns known as spatiotemporal optical vortices (STOVs). In a paper published in the journal Optica on Dec. 18, 2019, the researchers captured the first view into these phase vortices situated in space and time, developing a new method to observe ultra-fast pulses of light.

Each STOV is a pulse of light with a particular pattern of intensity—a measure of where the energy is concentrated—and phase. In the STOVs prepared by Milchberg and his collaborators, the intensity forms a loop in space and time that the researchers describe as an edge-first flying donut: If you could see the pulse flying toward you, you would see only the edge of the donut and not the hole. (See leftmost image below, where negative times are earlier.) In the same region of space and time, the phase of the light pulse forms a swirling pattern, creating a vortex centered on the donut hole (rightmost image).Milchberg 2020 storyProcessed data showing the intensity forming a ring (left) and the phase forming the vortex (right) in a spatiotemporal optical vortex. The green arrow indicates the increase of the phase around the vortex. (Credit: Scott Hancock/University of Maryland)

Milchberg and colleagues discovered STOVs in 2016 when they found structures akin to “optical smoke rings” forming around intense laser beams. These rings have a phase that varies around their edge, like the air currents swirling around a smoke ring. The vortices made in the new study are a similar but simpler structure: If you think of the original smoke ring as a bracelet made of beads, the new STOVs are like the individual beads.

The prior work showed that STOVs provide an elegant framework for understanding a well-known high-intensity laser effect—self-guiding. At high intensity, this effect occurs when a laser pulse, interacting with the medium it’s traveling through, compresses itself into a tight beam. The researchers showed that in this process, STOVs are responsible for directing the flow of energy and reshaping the laser, pushing energy together at its front and apart at its back.

That initial discovery looked at how these rings formed around a beam of light in two dimensions. But the researchers couldn’t explore the internal working of the vortices because each pulse is too short and fast for previously established techniques to capture. Each pulse passes by in just femtoseconds—about a 100 trillion times quicker than the blink of an eye.

“These are not microsecond or even nanosecond pulses that you just use electronics to capture,” says Sina Zahedpour, a co-author of the paper and UMD physics postdoctoral associate. “These are extremely short pulses that you need to use optical tricks to image.”

To capture both the intensity and phase of the new STOVs, researchers needed to prepare three additional pulses. The first pulse met with the STOV inside a thin glass window, producing an interference pattern encoded with the STOV intensity and phase. That pattern was read out using two longer pulses, producing data like that shown in the image above.

“The tools we had previously only looked at the amplitude of the light,” says Scott Hancock, a UMD physics graduate student and first author of the paper. “Now, we can get the full picture with phase, and this is proof that the principle works for studying ultrafast phenomena.”

STOVs may have a resilience that is useful for practical applications because their twisting, screw-like phase makes them robust against small obstacles. For example, as a STOV travels through the air, parts of the pulse might be blocked by water droplets and other small particles. But as they continue on, the STOVs tend to fill in the small sections that got knocked out, repairing minor damage in a way that could help preserve any information recorded in the pulse. Also, because a STOV pulse is so short and fast, it is indifferent to normal fluctuations in the air that are comparatively slow.

“Controlled generation of spatiotemporal optical vortices may lead to applications such as the resilient propagation of information or beam power through turbulence or fog,” says Milchberg. “These are important for applications such as free-space optical communications using lasers or for supplying power from ground stations to aerial vehicles.”


In addition to Milchberg, Zahedpour and Hancock, graduate student Andrew Goffin was a co-author.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (Award No. 1619582), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Award Nos. FA9550-16-10121 and FA9550-16-10284) and the Office of Naval Research (Award Nos. N00014-17-1-2705 and N00014-17-12778). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research or the Office of Naval Research.

The paper “Free-space propagation of spatiotemporal optical vortices,” S. W. Hancock, S. Zahedpour, A. Goffin, and H. M. Milchberg was published in Optica on December 18, 2019.

Media Relations Contact: Bailey Bedford, 301-405-9401, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Johnpierre Paglione Receives $1.55M from the Moore Foundation

Physics Professor Johnpierre Paglione has been awarded more than $1.5 million by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to study the complex behavior of electrons in quantum materials.paglione jpJohnpierre Paglione

“The Moore Foundation has played a pivotal role in supporting and promoting quantum materials research over the last five years, and I am extremely excited to continue to be part of this effort,” said Paglione, who also directs UMD’s Quantum Materials Center (formerly the Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials).

The new grant was awarded by the Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) initiative, a quantum materials research program that funds work on materials synthesis, experiments, and theory, with an interdisciplinary approach that includes physicists, chemists, and materials scientists. EPiQS focuses on exploratory research that develop deep questions about the organizing principles of complex quantum matter, and it also supports progress toward new applications, like quantum computing and precision measurement. 

Paglione’s award for materials synthesis was one of only 13 in the U.S. and renews an earlier grant he received from EPiQS, which has provided more than $120 million to researchers since 2013.

“Fundamental studies of quantum materials play a critical role in not only supporting current development of quantum technologies, but also the discovery of new phenomena that hold promise for future applications,” Paglione said.

In recognition of that critical role, UMD’s Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials was renamed to the Quantum Materials Center (QMC) in October. The change emphasized the evolving interests of the Center’s members, and it was announced at a one-day symposium in September organized by Paglione and several colleagues.

“Our center’s purpose will remain focused on the fundamental exploration and development of advanced materials and devices using multidisciplinary expertise drawn from the physics, chemistry, engineering and materials science departments,” Paglione said. “But we will place strong emphasis on the pursuit of optimized and novel quantum phenomena with potential to nucleate future computing, information and energy technologies.”

The symposium brought together many local scientists who study quantum materials, including researchers from the university’s Departments of Physics, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering, in addition to researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Laboratory for Physical Sciences. Amitabh Varshney, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, and Robert Briber, associate dean of UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, attended and shared their perspectives on campus initiatives in quantum science, including the newly formed Quantum Technology Center.

That meeting was bookended by several exciting research results from Paglione and his colleagues in the QMC. In June, they reported capturing the best evidence yet of Klein tunneling, a quantum quirk that allows electrons to burrow through a barrier like it’s not even there. The result, which was featured on the cover of the journal Nature, arises from a duo of quantum effects at the junction of two materials. One is superconductivity, which keeps electrons paired off in highly correlated ways. The other has to do with the precise kind of superconductivity present—in this case, topological superconductivity that further constrains the way that electrons interact with the interface between the two materials. In a nutshell, electrons heading toward the junction aren’t allowed to reflect back, which leads to their perfect transmission.

In August, Paglione and his collaborators published a paper in the journal Science about a new, unconventional superconductor. That material—uranium ditelluride—may also exhibit some effects expected of a topological superconductor, including a demonstrated resilience to magnetic fields that typically destroy superconductivity. One of the paper’s co-authors, NIST scientist and Adjunct Associate Professor of Physics Nicholas Butch, called the material a potential “silicon of the quantum information age,” due to its stability and potential use as a storage medium for the basic units of information in quantum computers.

In a follow-up paper published in the journal Nature Physics in October, many of the same researchers teamed up with scientists from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to test the properties of uranium ditelluride under extreme magnetic fields. They observed a rare phenomenon called re-entrant superconductivity, furthering the case that uranium ditelluride is not only a profoundly exotic superconductor, but also a promising material for technological applications. Nicknamed “Lazarus superconductivity” after the biblical figure who rose from the dead, the phenomenon occurs when a superconducting state arises, breaks down, then re-emerges in a material due to a change in a specific parameter—in this case, the application of a very strong magnetic field.

“This is indeed a remarkable material and it’s keeping us very busy,” Paglione said. “Uranium ditelluride may very well become the ‘textbook’ spin-triplet superconductor that people have been seeking for dozens of years and, more importantly, may be the first manifestation of a true intrinsic topological superconductor with potential for all sorts of technologies to come!”

Written by Chris Cesare with contributions from Matthew Wright

Longtime Staff Member Lorraine DeSalvo Retires

After 41 years tending to the people and places of the Department of Physics, Director of Administrative Services Lorraine DeSalvo retired in December. In tribute, colleagues established the Lorraine DeSalvo Chair's Endowed Award for Outstanding Service to provide annual recognition to physics employees who demonstrate exemplary commitment to their work. 

DeSalvo graduated from the University of Maryland in 1972 and immediately accepted a job in the Department of Chemistry. 

“I have had the pleasure of knowing so many truly wonderful staff members on this campus during my years here,” she said. “Having this fund to recognize physics department colleagues is the finest farewell I could have asked for.” 

DeSalvo’s duties covered both facilities and human relations, meaning that she knew every inch of space and every employee. Her vast institutional memory and cross-campus contacts allowed her to untangle innumerable bureaucratic knots.  As Department Chair Steve Rolston noted, the most commonly uttered phrase in the department in recent decades may well have been, “Just ask Lorraine.” 

Modern, energy-intensive physics experiments long strained the aging infrastructure of the John S. Toll Physics Building and required constant vigilance and frequent, extensive renovations. When funding was approved for the new Physical Sciences Complex, DeSalvo’s workload expanded considerably. She worked with architects, builders, and capital improvement staff to plan the move, order furniture, and ensure that labs were built to the exacting specifications of dozens of extremely particular scientists. 

She fostered camaraderie with vibrant holiday parties and memorable fiestas, extending invitations to helpful colleagues across a swath of campus sectors. To the department’s many international students, scholars and visitors, she extended her welcome, wisdom and warmth. She owned a variety of small stuffed flamingos, which she dispatched to travelers with a request for a scenic photo. A slideshow of UMD physics folks hoisting pink birds across the globe ran continually in her office. 

She also displayed a keen regard for the department’s achievements. 

After the death of physicist Joe Weber in 2000, his lab fell into disuse. DeSalvo kept protective watch over the “Weber bars,” colossal aluminum cylinders built to record gravitational waves. Years later, in 2015, the LIGO experiment detected gravitational waves, generating worldwide acclaim and renewing interest in Weber’s quest. Last March, the Weber Garden was dedicated outside of the Physical Sciences Complex.  

“Without Lorraine’s protective instincts and her foresight that the Weber bars would prove significant, these excellent monuments to UMD innovation would have been lost forever to campus and the world,” Rolston said.

As a retiree, DeSalvo says she looks forward to finding the best crab cake restaurants around—and to keeping in touch with the department. 

She was serenaded at her retirement party by the following: 

Her global flamingos and holiday parties
And summer fiestas gave Physics some verve
And year in and year out, there surely could be no doubt
How heartfelt is her motto of “I live to serve.”

Contributions to the Lorraine DeSalvo Chair's Endowed Award for Outstanding Service can be made here.

Written by Anne Suplee