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-PI’s 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 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.”

Alumnus Douglas Arion Points to Mountains of Stars

Ever since he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, Douglas Arion (M.S. ’80, Ph.D. ’84, physics) has been an innovator. He has always enjoyed the challenge of building things from the ground up—houses (he designed two), groundbreaking technology, unique academic programs and even college sports teams. 

“I think I’m inventive and creative and have always wanted to build and make things that aren’t what’s expected,” Arion said. “I’ve always been somebody who wants to make stuff happen.”

Douglas Arion. Photo by Rebecca SteevesDouglas Arion. Photo by Rebecca SteevesAnd for 35-plus years, he’s been doing just that, thanks to his strong foundation in physics.

“If you understand physics you understand everything, because everything fundamentally is based on physics,” Arion said. “I don’t think there’s been a discipline I’ve worked in or a technology that I’ve worked on or used or a field that you can’t apply it to. If you understand physics, you can do anything.”

At UMD, Arion’s Ph.D. research was a complex blend of plasma physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. 

“I found a way to quickly determine when a magnetic field can rapidly change shape and  break—such as when there’s a flare on the sun,” Arion said.

Arion had plenty of inspiration. His friends and study partners included Penrose “Parney” Albright (M.S. ’82, Ph.D. ’85, physics), who went on to become assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and David Douglas (M.S. ’82, Ph.D. ’82, physics), who spent 35 years exploring the nature of matter as a senior scientist at Jefferson Lab in Virginia.

“The folks who graduated with me have gone on to do some really amazing things,” Arion said. “We were good friends. I still stay in touch with many of them today.”

Arion would begin making his own mark as an innovator soon after he left Maryland, when a connection he made on campus led to a job at Science Applications Incorporated (SAI), a Virginia-based defense contractor.

“I was first involved in modeling and analysis of radiation effects on spacecraft and missile systems, that was the first big project we worked on,” Arion said. “I ended up working on a whole bunch of different defense-related projects in radiation areas.”

Climbing through the ranks at SAI to assistant vice president, Arion led the design and testing of systems including space-qualified optics and high-precision structural measuring systems for more than a decade.

Then in 1994, he moved on to a completely different kind of challenge, inspired by an ad he saw for a unique position in academia—an endowed chair in science and technology entrepreneurship at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“Carthage had received a donation from an alum, a former chem major, who said, ‘You need to start a program to teach science students how to launch ventures and how to run things,’” Arion explained. “So, I put in a resume and got hired. I built the country’s first program for undergraduates in science and technology entrepreneurship. And that was before it was sexy—you know, everybody has a program now. “

For Arion, it was another opportunity to build something from the ground up—this time, a program to teach science students the things they weren’t learning in the traditional college curriculum.

“When I created it, I started out saying in my head and then on paper, what’s all the stuff I wish someone had told me before I became a corporate exec, because there was a lot of stuff I had to learn on the fly,” Arion recalled.

Soon, Arion was teaching his students everything from personal finance and retirement planning to accounting, intellectual property and regulatory issues for business—all while coaching the college’s hockey team. His groundbreaking science entrepreneur program was so successful that it became a model for similar programs at colleges and universities around the country. 

In 2015, Arion’s efforts were recognized by his peers. Elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, he was honored for “groundbreaking work towards improving the educational impact of the physics degree by promoting the widespread adoption of entrepreneurship training and mindset within the discipline.”

Arion enjoyed academic life in Wisconsin, but as time went on, he missed the wild beauty of the New Hampshire mountains, where he spent summers hiking and biking as a boy. Arion never lost his love for the outdoors—or his passion for protecting the environment. And after more than a decade at Carthage College, he saw an opportunity to take his innovative energy—and science education—in a new direction.

“I’ve always been very unhappy with the general understanding of science in this country, and in particular when it comes to the environment,” Arion explained. “I wanted to do something different.”

His plan was to reinvent environmental education and change the way people see their place in the world around them.

“From my perspective, most people in western culture think that human beings are more important than everything else,” he said. “We look at every resource as something we can just take. If we’re more aware of our place in the universe we will become more protective of the resources that are all around us.”

That idea was the inspiration for Mountains of Stars, a program Arion launched in 2012 with a simple mission.

“We call it environmental awareness from a cosmic perspective,” he said.

mountains of stars logoFunded by the National Science Foundation and other supporters, Mountains of Stars began as a partnership between Carthage College and the Appalachian Mountain Club, the oldest outdoor recreation, conservation and education organization in the U.S. The mission: use high-quality, hands-on astronomy experiences to change people’s attitudes and actions toward the environment.

Why astronomy?

“Two things. One: It’s actually the only science. Because everything is part of it,” Arion explained. “You can address and integrate and incorporate everything that’s out there, all of the processes that have brought us to this point cosmically. It’s all one system—geological processes, natural biology, it’s everything. The second aspect is that people like it. If you have a telescope, people want to look through it. That gives you an opportunity to talk about something.”

Through the Mountains of Stars program, college physics and astronomy students train to be better science communicators and can then become part of the program’s environmental outreach, which includes hands-on astronomy and nature activities designed to engage the public and raise environmental awareness, one person at a time. Over nine years, the program has reached more than 65,000 people.

“I hope, over the long term, that we're planting enough seeds that people will actually change what they do and thus change the course of human behavior,” Arion explained. “I know it takes time, but you have to start somewhere.”

Arion is technically retired now, living on the doorstep of a national forest in a New Hampshire home he designed and taking full advantage of the outdoor lifestyle that goes with it. He still does research and leads entrepreneurship workshops around the world, and he is also involved in environmental initiatives like the international Dark-Sky Association. But it’s Mountains of Stars, the mission closest to Arion’s heart, that continues to get most of his time and energy. He hopes over time, the program can make the kind of difference that matters. 

“This is the thing that’s most important to me right now,” Arion said. “I hope in the future, someone looks back at it and says we did something good here.”

Written by Leslie Miller

Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Awards & Notes  

We proudly recognize members of our community who recently garnered major honors, authored books, began new positions and more.

Faculty and Staff 
Department Notes
  • The Department participated in the American Institute of Physics Task Force to Elevate African American representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP). College Park Professor Jim Gates and College of Education Professor Sharon Fries-Britt served on the task force. 
  •  UMD & NIST hosted a Conference of Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) in January. 
  • The Maryland Quantum Alliance—a regional consortium of quantum scientists and engineers from across academia, national laboratories and industry—launched in January. Recently, it was expanded as the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance. 
  • Research by a team that includes Assistant Professor Norbert Linke, Graduate Student Nhung Hong Nguyen, and Visiting Graduate Student Cinthia Huerta Alderete was selected as one of the 2019 Top Picks in Computer Architecture by IEEE Micro
  • The Condensed Matter Theory Center launched a blog
  • The Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics found that the department is a top producer of physics undergraduate degrees
  • Negar Heidarian Boroujeni, Dave Buehrle, Tom Gleason, Jordan Goodman, Carter Hall, Kara Hoffman and Ted Jacobson received campus funding to adapt instructional methods in the wake of the coronavirus.  
  • The Quantum Technology Center (QTC)—a joint venture between the A. James Clark School of Engineering and the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences—today entered into an education partnership agreement with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to identify and pursue quantum technology research opportunities.