Ph.D. Student Batoul Banihashemi Excels at Leading the Class

For some graduate students, being a teaching assistant is seen as a bit of a chore. Batoul Banihashemi Batoul Banihashemi Teaching classes and grading assignments can take time away from the research they enrolled in the program to do. But for Batoul Banihashemi, the opportunity to teach has been a highlight.

“Usually teaching is looked at as an extra thing that grad students are required to do, or they have to do it because they couldn't find a research position, but it has been very fruitful for me,” she said.

Banihashemi, a physics Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, understands the importance of being a great teacher, because the teachers in her own life inspired her to take on the challenge of studying physics.

“I first became interested in physics when I was in high school and first learned about electromagnetic fields. A great teacher that I had did a great job at conveying the beauty of it to me, and I was fascinated by the concept,” she said. “Once I began my undergraduate studies, I became especially interested in theoretical physics, Einstein's general theory of relativity and the topic of gravity. My professors did a great job teaching the subject, which made me excited to pursue a career in it. I should also emphasize the role of my parents in encouraging me to pursue science and making me very fond of books since my early childhood.”

Banihashemi, who is in the fifth year of her Ph.D., received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the University of Tehran in Iran, her home country. She was attending a conference in Tehran in 2015 when a speaker mentioned a research group studying fundamental physics at the University of Maryland.

“I was applying to different universities at that time and the presentation led me to consider Maryland,” she said. “Once I researched the university online, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is one of the best places that I can go.’” 

While researching UMD, she came across the work of Distinguished University Professor of Physics Theodore Jacobson. His research on gravitational theory was just what Banihashemi was interested in studying.

“I am very grateful to work with Professor Jacobson, who is a renowned and distinguished physicist in the field of quantum gravity,” she said. “I was always interested in knowing about black holes and other cosmological systems that can be found as solutions to the Einstein equations, and Jacobson’s work is focused on these exciting subjects.” 

Since beginning her studies at Maryland, Banihashemi co-authored a paper in the journal Physical Review D on gravitomagnetic tidal effects in gravitational waves from neutron star binaries, and she is working on another paper with Jacobson that she hopes will be published soon.

And though Banihashemi has seen success in her research, being a TA has been just as fulfilling for her.

“I really enjoy teaching because I love interacting with the students and helping them see the beauty in physics that I see,” she said. “And I know that if I can’t explain a topic to someone else, then it means I haven’t learned it well enough myself. So it has been helpful in that regard as well.”

Banihashemi’s teaching skills shine through in the classroom, earning her multiple accolades. She won the Graduate School’s Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award in 2018, which honors the top 2% of campus graduate assistants. She also won the Ralph Myers & Friends of Physics Award in 2018, 2019 and 2020, which is given annually to support outstanding graduate teaching assistants in physics.

“I’m very thankful to have been nominated for these awards, and I appreciate all the opportunities that I've been granted to serve as a TA,” she said. “My experience in this area is going to help me in my future career, too.”

Once she graduates from Maryland with her Ph.D., Banihashemi plans to do a postdoctoral research fellowship, hopefully in the U.S., and then eventually work in academia.

“My dream job is to become a professor,” she said. “I’d like to continue to do research and teach, and I’m glad to have experienced both during my time at Maryland.”

Written by Chelsea Torres

JQI Summer Student Named Regeneron Science Talent Search Finalist

Timothy Qian, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, has been named a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) 2021 competition(link is external) for the research from his summer internship at the University of Maryland. He performed the work with the mentorship of Adjunct Associate Professor Alexey Gorshkov and graduate student Jacob Bringewatt. Gorshkov, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS).

“Researching at JQI and QuICS was a new and interesting experience,” Qian says. “My mentors showed me how the research process worked and helped me immensely throughout my project. Being named a finalist is a huge honor, as well as a recognition of the research my mentors and I conducted.”Timothy Qian (credit: Feng Qian)Timothy Qian (credit: Feng Qian)

The Regeneron STS competition is designed to acknowledge original research by high school students in a topic related to science, technology, engineering or math. As a finalist, Qian is one of the top 40 students out of 1,760 entrants and will receive at least $25,000.

“Timothy was super impressive and fun to work with,” Bringewatt says. “He worked really hard and showed a lot of creative independence–in fact he arrived at the essential mathematical insight that broke open the problem for us by making clever use of a beautiful duality theorem he found in the mathematics literature.”

In Qian’s project, titled “Optimal Measurement of Field Properties with Quantum Sensor Networks,” he developed, with the aid of Gorshkov’s lab, a procedure for using networks of quantum sensors to perform optimal measurements of field properties—things like the electric field generated at a particular point by a distribution of electrons or the magnetic field produced by atomic nuclei. The procedure can be used to get the best accuracy that is possible in a limited amount of time or to take the shortest amount of time possible to get a needed level of accuracy. This optimized procedure should help people design quantum technologies that can efficiently work together to gather information about the surrounding world.

“As quantum computers and quantum networks are developed, the global internet of computers and things will inevitably include quantum computers and other quantum devices, such as quantum sensors and quantum clocks,” Bringewatt says. “The protocol that Tim discovered will be a crucial ingredient for allowing us to fully take advantage of this inevitability.”

Gorshkov has mentored other high school students who expressed interest in his lab’s work, including Qian’s older brother, Kevin. Kevin Qian was also acknowledged for his work in Gorshkov’s lab; he was selected as a 2019 Regeneron STS Finalist and placed second in the physics and astronomy category at the International Science and Engineering Fair 2019.

Timothy Qian and this year’s other finalists will have the opportunity to present their work to the public and to compete for the top 10 awards—including a $250,000 prize for the overall winner—in a virtual competition scheduled for March.

Original story by Bailey Bedford:

Taylor Receives Department of Commerce Gold Medal

Adjunct Professor Jake Taylor has been recognized by the federal government for his role in expanding U.S. policy and efforts in the fiercely competitive field of quantum information science.

Taylor, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology(link is external) (NIST), is the recipient of the 2020 Gold Medal Award from the Department of Commerce.

This is the highest award given by the department, which oversees activities at NIST. It recognizes individuals or groups that provide extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that reflect favorably on the department and impact its mission.

Taylor was specifically cited for his work in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where he served from 2017–2019 and spearheaded an initiative to expand and coordinate federal efforts involving quantum computing, sensing, and communication research and development.

While at OSTP, Taylor interacted with a multitude of federal agencies and external stakeholders to craft a comprehensive U.S. policy in quantum science, organized the quantum information science (QIS) community, and worked closely with policy teams both within and outside the White House to integrate administration approaches with legislative efforts and enable effective execution of the nation’s expanded QIS research agenda.

The result was the National Quantum Initiative Act(link is external), passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed into law on December 21, 2018.

The legislation commits the federal government to providing $1.2 billion to fund activities promoting quantum information science over an initial five-year period; additional funding was also approved by Congress in its session ending January 1, 2021, leading to more than $350 million for FY 2021 alone.

One important aim of the plan is to create new research centers that bring together academics from different disciplines—such as computer science, physics and engineering—to help conduct experiments and train future quantum researchers. Eight of these centers were launched in 2020, led by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

The law also encourages large companies and startups to pool some of their knowledge and resources in joint research efforts with government institutes. It also supports the Quantum Economic Development Consortium(link is external), which Taylor helped lay the groundwork for while at NIST in 2017 and at OSTP in the following years.

Finally, the legislation calls for coordination of activities and outreach, both areas that Taylor actively engaged in. This included the creation of the National Quantum Coordination Office(link is external), in which Taylor served as the first director; the launch of the Q–12 education partnership(link is external) to enable middle and high school curriculum development and teaching of quantum concepts; and the launch of is external), which serves as a central home for federal QIS research and development.

“I am honored to receive the Gold Medal Award from the Department of Commerce, and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to the quantum information science community for coming together to focus on a positive approach to change,” says Taylor.

Many voices in concert have enabled the U.S. to expand its resolution to advance new discoveries in quantum computing and quantum information science, Taylor adds.

“But there’s no sleeping on the job,” he says. “The national quantum coordination office and the federal, academic, and private sector teams all have a tremendous amount left to do. Still, I believe the foundation laid by myself and others at the start of this decade have put us in a place where the work moving forward will have the most impact—from enhancing middle school curriculums to building large-scale quantum computers.”

Taylor is a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute and of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science. He reseasrches  hybrid quantum systems, applications of quantum information science, and fundamental questions about the limits of quantum and classical behavior.

A Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, Taylor is also the recipient of the Department of Commerce Silver Medal, the IUPAP C15 Young Scientist Award, the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal: Call to Service, the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering, and the Newcomb Cleveland prize of the AAAS. He has published more than 150 scientific papers, several book chapters, and holds numerous patents in quantum technologies.

Adapted from a story originally published by QuICS

Researchers Create On-Demand Cold Spots to Generate Electromagnetic Cone of Silence

In modern society, we are accustomed to having electronic systems that always work, regardless of the conditions. Protection of sensitive electronics to interference through unwanted coupling between components or intentional electromagnetic attack is important to ensure uninterrupted service. However, the environments in which we operate are growing increasingly complex and the electromagnetic spectrum is more congested. Additionally, certain environments such as a passenger cabin on an aircraft or train, can act as reverberant cavities, resulting in random fluctuations in signal levels. These effects are dynamic, so preventing significant performance degradation necessitates an approach that is capable of adapting to changing conditions.

An electromagnetic enclosure can be characterized by its scattering parameters, which are voltage to voltage transfer functions defining the behavior of transmission and reflection between inputs and outputs. One method of dynamically changing the scattering parameters is to install a programmable metasurface inside the cavity. A programmable metasurface consists of multiple unit cells, each of which can modify its reflection coefficient, allowing the direction of reflected rays to be adjusted on-the-fly. Conceptual overview of the metasurface-enabled cavity as a closed-loop system. The cavity S parameters (scattering parameters) are measured with a network analyzer and passed to a controller that updates the metasurface elements with a new set of commands. The controller can generate cold spots at port 2 at an arbitrary set of frequencies, or drive candidate S-matrix eigenvalues towards the origin, and includes a stochastic iterative optimization algorithm. The three ports allow additional angular and spatial diversity to be added at the inputs. The inset shows a closeup view of one of the metasurface unit cells.Conceptual overview of the metasurface-enabled cavity as a closed-loop system. The cavity S parameters (scattering parameters) are measured with a network analyzer and passed to a controller that updates the metasurface elements with a new set of commands. The controller can generate cold spots at port 2 at an arbitrary set of frequencies, or drive candidate S-matrix eigenvalues towards the origin, and includes a stochastic iterative optimization algorithm. The three ports allow additional angular and spatial diversity to be added at the inputs. The inset shows a closeup view of one of the metasurface unit cells.

Researchers in the Wave Chaos Group at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) have used this approach to create on-demand coldspots, or nulls in transmission, effectively generating an electromagnetic cone of silence. Their work, published on December 29 in Physical Review Research, used a binary tunable metasurface manufactured by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The relationship between commands and cavity scattering parameters is extremely complex, so simple linear techniques fail to converge. The team, led by electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student Benjamin Frazier, developed an efficient stochastic algorithm and experimentally demonstrated the ability to generate coldspots at arbitrary frequencies, with arbitrary bandwidths, and even when driving multiple inputs.

“Chaotic microwave cavities are extremely useful as surrogates to probe the behavior of electromagnetic waves in larger complicated enclosures and are used in many of the research projects being investigated both by our group and collaborators at facilities such as the Naval Research Lab,” said Frazier. “The ability to dynamically modify the cavity in a very detailed and controllable manner is a significant advancement towards harnessing waves as they propagate through these rich scattering environments.”

In addition, they showed the ability to induce coherent perfect absorption states inside the cavity. Coherent perfect absorption is a special condition inside the cavity where all incoming energy injected into the cavity is absorbed and has great promise as a method to enable long range wireless power transfer.

Other authors of the paper include UMD Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics Professors Thomas M. Antonsen,  Edward Ott and  Steven M. Anlage.


Original story: