Nick Poniatowski Wins APS Apker Award

The American Physical Society has selected Nicholas R. Poniatowski (B.S. Physics, ’20) to receive the 2020 LeRoy Apker Award. The Apker Award, which carries a $5,000 prize for both the awardee and the department, is givelobb merrillRick Greene and Nick Poniatowski.n annually to one student from a Ph.D. granting institution and one from a non-Ph.D. granting institution. Poniatowski, now in graduate school at Harvard University, will study with condensed matter experimentalist Amir Yacoby.

Poniatowski, the first University of Maryland student to receive this honor, entered UMD neither having taken AP Physics nor working in a lab. He began his research in March 2017 with Rick Greene of the Quantum Materials Center; by his spring 2020 graduation, he was a major contributor to three experimental research projects and the author or co-author of five publications and two manuscripts submitted for publication and now under review. Among his accolades are a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. 

“In the Quantum Materials Center, we routinely support undergraduate research not only to provide students an opportunity to gain experience, but also because there are many talented students eager to help boost our efforts,” said director Johnpierre Paglione. “In Nick's case, we were both delighted and amazed at his abilities and enthusiasm, and are proud to have helped launch his career.” 

“I had a great run at UMD, and benefitted immensely from the department’s emphasis on undergraduate research,” said Poniatowski, who was named a 2020 UMD Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher. “Working with Rick was a truly formative experience, and perhaps more importantly, a tremendous amount of fun.”

Greene regards Poniatowski as an extraordinary scholar. “When Nick started work in my lab he had completed a typical freshman level of courses, so I suggested that he read the beginning chapters of a few introductory books on solid state physics, modern physics and quantum mechanics,” Greene said. “To my amazement, he quickly learned much about these subjects, going way beyond what I initially thought he could understand.

“Nick then asked me what symmetry is broken when a material enters the superconducting state. Since I didn’t really have a simple answer to this question, I suggested that he talk to one of my theoretical colleagues, Sankar Das Sarma.” 

Within months of raising the question, Poniatowski published a single-author paper, “Superconductivity, Broken Gauge Symmetry and the Higgs Mechanism” in the American Journal of Physics.  (

"Saying Nick is exceptionally brilliant and motivated is an understatement," said Das Sarma. "His enthusiasm and drive for doing physics all the time at the highest level are so exuberant and all-encompassing that I had to sometimes hide from him because he dropped by my office to ask serious technical questions about random research topics, which were sometimes exhausting because his questions are always challenging as his understanding of physics is deep." 

Greene notes Poniatowski’s exceptional versatility in both theory and experiment. “He very quickly learned a number of significant experimental skills, including preparation of copper oxide (cuprate) thin films by the pulsed laser deposition method and X-ray diffraction measurements to characterize the crystal structure and orientation of these films. He also became expert at various electrical transport measurements, such as resistivity and Hall Effect, which enabled him to measure these properties as a function of temperature and magnetic field. With these measurements, Nick discovered some new and surprising physical properties of the cuprates, high temperature superconductors, the understanding of which has puzzled scientists for more than 30 years. Nick’s experimental results (soon to all be published) will provide new insights into the mysterious properties of the cuprates.”

Moreover, Poniatowski can clearly convey the subject that he loves: he won a TA award as an undergraduate, and during the COVID-19 shutdown prepared a series of Zoom lectures on a topic he plans to pursue at Harvard.  “They are really comprehensive and beautiful lectures,” said Greene.

Poniatowski described his years in Greene’s lab as “a wonderful experience which drastically expanded my knowledge of physics and defined my understanding of scientific research. In addition to his invaluable mentorship, regular pontification about the stock market, and discussions about Proust, Rick offered me a number of opportunities unusual for undergraduates (from a trip to Stanford to getting to write a review article), for which I am extremely grateful.”

“I was also extremely fortunate to work with two fantastic post-docs, Tara Sarkar and Pampa Mandal, who taught me how to actually perform experiments and made day-to-day life in the lab a lively experience. Most importantly, I’ve internalized Rick’s BS-free approach to science, which will continue to guide my thinking for years to come.”


UMD to Lead $1M NSF Project to Develop a Quantum Network to Interconnect Quantum Computers

Quantum technology is expected to be a major technological driver in the 21st century, with significant societal impact in various sectors. A quantum network would revolutionize a broad range of industries including computing, banking, medicine, and data analytics. While the Internet has transformed virtually every aspect of our life by enabling connectivity between a multitude of users across the globe, a quantum internet could have a similar transformational potential for quantum technology.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $1 million to a multi-institutional team led by Edo Waks and Norbert Linke, along with Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX) Executive Director Tripti Sinha and co-PIs Dirk Englund of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Saikat Guha of the University of Arizona, to help develop quantum interconnects for ion trap quantum computers, which are currently some of the most scalable quantum computers available.

The group is one of 29 teams who were selected for the Convergence Accelerator program, a new NSF initiative designed to accelerate use-inspired research to address wide-scale societal challenges. The 2020 cohort addresses two transformative research areas of national importance: quantum technology and artificial intelligence.

“We plan to merge state-of-the-art quantum technology with prevailing internet technology to interconnect quantum computers coherently over a quantum internet that coexists with and leverages the vast existing infrastructure that is our current Internet,” said Waks, principal investigator on the project, who is the Quantum Technology Center (QTC) Associate Director and holds appointments in Physics, the Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringJoint Quantum Institute and the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics

The ability to interconnect many ion trap quantum computers over a quantum internet would be a major technological advance, laying the foundation for applications that are impossible on today’s internet.

“The NSF Convergence Accelerator is focusing on delivering tangible solutions that have a nation-wide societal impact and at a faster pace,” said Pradeep Fulay, Program Director for the Convergence Accelerator. “Over the next nine months this team and 10 other teams aligned to the Quantum Technology track, will work to build proof-of-concepts by leveraging the Accelerator’s innovation model and curriculum to include multidisciplinary partnerships between academia, industry and other organizations; as well as team science, human-centered design, and user-discovery; igniting a convergence team-building approach.”

Their project, part of the NSF Convergence Accelerator's (C-Accel) Quantum Technology Track, will develop the quantum interconnects required to establish kilometer distance quantum channels between remote quantum computing sites. The result will be the MARQI network, a local area network that will interconnect quantum computers at University of Maryland, the Army Research Laboratory, and Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX), with potential for major scalability. In addition, an MARQI Advisory Committee will be created comprising those interested in advancing the project.

“We will leverage a quantum network testbed — of our recently-awarded NSF Engineering Research Center: the "Center for Quantum Networks” led by University of Arizona in partnership with MIT, Harvard, Yale and several other institutions — for rapid prototyping, benchmarking and scaling up trapped-ion-based quantum routers to be built in the UMD-led Convergence Accelerator program,” says Saikat Guha.

Although the quantum internet was an idea previously relegated to research labs, it is now in a position to become an applied technology with transformational potential for society, science, and national security.

“This convergence accelerator program will deliver the future backbone for a fully-functional quantum internet that can enable the transmission of quantum data over continental distances,” says Waks.

The quantum technology topic complements the NSF's Quantum Leap Big Idea and aligns with the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) strategy to improve the U.S. industrial base, create jobs and provide significant progress toward economic and societal needs.

"The quantum technology and AI-driven data and model sharing topics were chosen based on community input and identified federal research and development priorities," said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. "This is the program's second cohort and we are excited for these teams to use convergence research and innovation-centric fundamentals to accelerate solutions that have a positive societal impact."


Original story here:

Gorshkov Named APS Fellow

Adjunct Associate Professor Alexey Gorshkov has been elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). He is one of 163 APS members to join the select group this year.Alexey GorshkovAlexey Gorshkov

Gorshkov, who is also a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, a Physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and a Fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, leads a theoretical research group with interests that span many areas of physics. He and his team study everything from single atoms and pinpoints of light to information speed limits and exotic phases of matter. And they often investigate all of it through the lens of quantum information theory.

Each year, APS selects no more than 0.5% of its non-student membership—currently more than 33,000 people—as fellows, a recognition by peers of their contributions to physics. Gorshkov was nominated for his “contributions to the understanding, design, and control of quantum many-body atomic, molecular, and optical systems and their applications to phase transitions, entanglement generation and propagation, synthetic magnetism, and quantum memory and simulation.”

Quantum Matchmaking: New NIST System Detects Ultra-Faint Communications Signals Using the Principles of Quantum Physics

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland (UMD) and JQI have devised and demonstrated a system that could dramatically increase the performance of communications networks while enabling record-low error rates in detecting even the faintest of signals. The work could potentially decrease the total amount of energy required for state-of-the-art networks by a factor of 10 to 100. 

The proof-of-principle system consists of a novel receiver and corresponding signal-processing technique that, unlike the methods used in today’s networks, are entirely based on the properties of quantum physics and thereby capable of handling even extremely weak signals with pulses that carry many bits of data.The incoming signal (red, lower left) proceeds through a beam splitter to the photon detector, which has an attached time register (top right). The receiver sends the reference beam to the beam splitter to cancel the incoming pulse so that no light is detected. If even one photon is detected, it means that the receiver used an incorrect reference beam, which needs to be adjusted. The receiver uses exact times of photon detection to arrive at the right adjustment with fewer guesses. The combination of recorded detection times and the history of reference beam frequencies are used to find the frequency of the incoming signal. (Credit: NIST)The incoming signal (red, lower left) proceeds through a beam splitter to the photon detector, which has an attached time register (top right). The receiver sends the reference beam to the beam splitter to cancel the incoming pulse so that no light is detected. If even one photon is detected, it means that the receiver used an incorrect reference beam, which needs to be adjusted. The receiver uses exact times of photon detection to arrive at the right adjustment with fewer guesses. The combination of recorded detection times and the history of reference beam frequencies are used to find the frequency of the incoming signal. (Credit: NIST)

“We built the communication test bed using off-the-shelf components to demonstrate that quantum-measurement-enabled communication can potentially be scaled up for widespread commercial use,” said Ivan Burenkov, a research scientist at JQI. Burenkov and his colleagues report the results in Physical Review X Quantum(link is external). “Our effort shows that quantum measurements offer valuable, heretofore unforeseen advantages for telecommunications leading to revolutionary improvements in channel bandwidth and energy efficiency.”

Modern communications systems work by converting information into a laser-generated stream of digital light pulses in which information is encoded—in the form of changes to the properties of the light waves—for transfer and then decoded when it reaches the receiver. The train of pulses grows fainter as it travels along transmission channels, and conventional electronic technology for receiving and decoding data has reached the limit of its ability to precisely detect the information in such attenuated signals.

The signal pulse can dwindle until it is as weak as a few photons—or even less than one on average. At that point, inevitable random quantum fluctuations called “shot noise” make accurate reception impossible by normal (“classical,” as opposed to quantum) technology because the uncertainty caused by the noise makes up such a large part of the diminished signal. As a result, existing systems must amplify the signals repeatedly along the transmission line, at considerable energy cost, keeping them strong enough to detect reliably. 

The NIST team’s system can eliminate the need for amplifiers because it can reliably process even extremely feeble signal pulses: “The total energy required to transmit one bit becomes a fundamental factor hindering the development of networks,” said Sergey Polyakov, senior scientist on the NIST team and an adjunct associate professor of physics at UMD. “The goal is to reduce the sum of energy required by lasers, amplifiers, detectors, and support equipment to reliably transmit information over longer distances. In our work here we demonstrated that with the help of quantum measurement even faint laser pulses can be used to communicate multiple bits of information—a necessary step towards this goal.”

To increase the rate at which information can be transmitted, network researchers are finding ways to encode more information per pulse by using additional properties of the light wave. So a single laser light pulse, depending on how it was originally prepared for transmission, can carry multiple bits of data. To improve detection accuracy, quantum-enhanced receivers can be fitted onto classical network systems. To date, those hybrid combinations can process up to two bits per pulse. The NIST quantum system uses up to 16 distinct laser pulses to encode as many as four bits.

To demonstrate that capability, the NIST researchers created an input of faint laser pulses comparable to a substantially attenuated conventional network signal, with the average number of photons per pulse from 0.5 to 20 (though photons are whole particles, a number less than one simply means that some pulses contain no photons). 

After preparing this input signal, the NIST researchers take advantage of its wavelike properties, such as interference, until it finally hits the detector as photons (particles). In the realm of quantum physics, light can act as either particles (photons) or waves, with properties such as frequency and phase (the relative positions of the wave peaks). 

Inside the receiver, the input signal’s pulse train combines (interferes) with a separate, adjustable reference laser beam, which controls the frequency and phase of the combined light stream. It is extremely difficult to read the different encoded states in such a faint signal. So the NIST system is designed to measure the properties of the whole signal pulse by trying to match the properties of the reference laser to it exactly. The researchers achieve this through a series of successive measurements of the signal, each of which increases the probability of an accurate match.

That is done by adjusting the frequency and phase of the reference pulse so that it   interferes destructively with the signal when they are combined at the beam splitter, canceling the signal out completely so no photons can be detected. In this scheme, shot noise is not a factor: Total cancellation has no uncertainty. 

Thus, counterintuitively, a perfectly accurate measurement results in no photon reaching the detector. If the reference pulse has the wrong frequency, a photon can reach the detector. The receiver uses the time of that photon detection to predict the most probable signal frequency and adjusts the frequency of the reference pulse accordingly. If that prediction is still incorrect, the detection time of the next photon results in a more accurate prediction based on both photon detection times, and so on. 

“Once the signal interacts with the reference beam, the probability of detecting a photon varies in time,” Burenkov said, “and consequently the photon detection times contain information about the input state. We use that information to maximize the chance to guess correctly after the very first photon detection.

“Our communication protocol is designed to give different temporal profiles for different combinations of the signal and reference light. Then the detection time can be used to distinguish between the input states with some certainty. The certainty can be quite low at the beginning, but it is improved throughout the measurement. We want to switch the reference pulse to the right state after the very first photon detection because the signal contains just a few photons, and the longer we measure the signal with the correct reference, the better our confidence in the result is.”

Polyakov discussed the possible applications. “The future exponential growth of the internet will require a paradigm shift in the technology behind communications,” he said. “Quantum measurement could become this new technology. We demonstrated record low error rates with a new quantum receiver paired with the optimal encoding protocol. Our approach could significantly reduce energy for telecommunications.”

This story was originally published by NIST News(link is external). It has been adapted with minor changes here. JQI is a research partnership between UMD and NIST, with the support and participation of the Laboratory for Physical Sciences.

Reference publication: "Time-Resolving Quantum Measurement Enables Energy-Efficient, Large-Alphabet Communication," I.A. Burenkov, M.V. Jabir, A. Battou, S.V. Polyakov, PRX Quantum, 1, 010308 (2020)