Hafezi Named Finalist for Blavatnik Award

Mohammad Hafezi has been named a finalist for the 2019 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists.

He is one of 31 researchers competing for three Blavatnik National Laureate Awards in the categories of Physical Sciences and Engineering, Chemistry and Life Sciences, and is one of 10 finalists in Physical Sciences and Engineering. Each of the three National Laureates will win $250,000—the world’s largest unrestricted prize for early-career scientists. The awards are sponsored by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.

"Starting during his time as a postdoc in the Joint Quantum Institute, Hafezi has established himself as a world leader in marrying topology, many body physics and photonics," said Steve Rolston, chair of the Department of Physics. "With appointments in physics and engineering,  he is helping to catalyze UMD's efforts to transition quantum physics to quantum technology."

Now in its 13th year, the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists recognize the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most talented faculty-rank scientists and engineers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions. This year, the Blavatnik National Awards received an unprecedented 343 nominations from 169 academic and research centers across 44 states—a record in all three categories. The three 2019 National Laureates will be announced June 26.

Inspired by the concept of topology in mathematics and its prevalence in electronic quantum materials, Hafezi’s innovative work has addressed a critical problem of inevitable nanofabrication defects. These imperfections have plagued the reliability and performance of optical devices in nanophotonics and quantum optics for years. Hafezi has shown that like electrons, photons under a given set of conditions can also be made insensitive to both the shape and defects in an optical device. This discovery has garnered immense interest in the optics community and spurred a new field of topological photonics. Hafezi is an associate professor with affiliations in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Department of PhysicsJoint Quantum Institute, and Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics.

Liangbing Hu, a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is also among the finalists. 

UMD Joins Forces with 11 Institutions in a New International Simons Collaboration “Ultra-Quantum Matter”

SImons2019bannerImage: Leon Balents.

Seventeen theoretical physics faculty across 12 institutions have established a new Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter. The team, which includes Victor Galitski, a Chesapeake Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics in the Department of Physics and Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, will investigate innovative ideas about how quantum physics works on macroscopic scales. This new effort will be led by Professor Ashvin Vishwanath at Harvard University and is supported under the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and Physical Sciences program, which aims to “stimulate progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in mathematics, theoretical physics and theoretical computer science."

The Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter aims to explore unusual quantum mechanical behaviors arising in systems comprised of many constituents. This kind of matter is made from quantum particles (e.g. atoms and electrons) that interact strongly and feature robust non-local quantum entanglement, for instance. Such a system defies the conventional expectation that quantum effects tend to dissipate as the number of particles increases. The collaboration will primarily focus on developing theory around ultra-quantum matter and exploring pathways towards future technologies, such as devices that store quantum information non-locally and unconventional quantum materials.

Ultra-Quantum Matter is an $8M four-year award funded by the Simons Foundation and renewable for three additional years. It will support researchers from the following institutions: Caltech, Harvard, the Institute for Advanced Study, MIT, Stanford, University of California Santa Barbara, University of California San Diego, the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Innsbruck, University of Maryland and University of Washington.

UMD Physics Offers Undergraduates New Research Opportunities with FIRE

FIRE20192019 FIRE Simulating Particle Detection students with their research leader, Dr. Muge Karagoz.

The University of Maryland’s Physics Department has joined The First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE) program through the launch of the Simulating Particle Detection research group. The group is run by Dr. Muge Karagoz in collaboration with two Experimental High Energy Physics faculty members: Professor Sarah Eno and Assistant Professor Alberto Belloni, both of whom are members of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider based at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

FIRE is a three-semester program with second and third semesters concentrating on research in a specific discipline. FIRE provides students with authentic research experience and a broad mentorship with the goal of influencing academic success and personal development. The FIRE Simulating Particle Detection brings undergraduate students from a wide variety of majors into the field of experimental particle physics, concentrating on the simulation of cutting-edge, high-energy particle detectors, such as the planned upgrade of the CMS detector.

In Simulating Particle Detection, students go through all aspects of conducting research. They start with a literature search on particle physics and detectors, as well as training on computing and coding. They then move on to data analysis and presentation of their results. For their research projects, they form teams giving them a chance to experience the pursuit of collaborative achievements. As a natural outcome of performing research, especially in the context of an international, big-data experiment like CMS, the students also learn skills such as adaptability, and strategies such as trouble-shooting.

The research group launched in the spring of 2019, with 33 undergraduate students, and has just completed its first semester. This was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the FIRE program operated through the Office of the Senior Vice President and the Provost, the Department of Physics, and the Experimental High Energy Physics Group. The research group was also greatly helped by highly-dedicated undergraduate research assistants and peer mentors. Peer Mentors are second-year FIRE students who return to serve as mentors for the first-year students in FIRE research groups, through the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center’s Academic Peer Mentoring Program. The Simulating Particle Detection will continue with current students in the fall, with the next group of first-year participants to begin in Spring 2020.

More information on the Simulating Particle Detection research group can be found on the FIRE program’s web site (http://fire.umd.edu/). Additional information on the Experimental High Energy Physics Group can be found on the Department of Physics website (https://umdphysics.umd.edu/research/research-areas/high-energy-physics.html).

Letters From a Science Giant

Auction of Notes by Stephen Hawking to Professor Emeritus Charles Misner Endow the Weber Fund with Approximately $260,000

Hawking Memorabilia 02262019 4976 1920x1080A handwritten letter from famed physicist Stephen Hawking to UMD physics Professor Emeritus Charles Misner in the late 1960s is one of the items being auctioned to create an endowment to support study in the field both specialized in—gravitational physics. (Photo by John T. Consoli)

"Dear Charlie,” each letter begins.

They go on to talk about kids, explore recent theoretical ideas and even ask whether reimbursement for a recent trip to the University of Maryland was coming through. Job references are also a big topic—typical for correspondence between two academics.

Far from typical was their author: Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who became a popular author, a science advocate and an international symbol of perseverance in the face of his crippling Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Now the letters—donated by their recipient, UMD physics Professor Emeritus Charles Misner—are being auctioned to create an endowment in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.  

Hawking wrote the letters between 1967 and 1970. He’d hit it off with Misner, a fellow physicist studying Einstein’s theory of gravitation, while the American scientist was on a fellowship at the University of Cambridge.

Soon after, Hawking brought his family to Maryland to stay at Misner’s home and spend time at UMD. Misner’s research group was immersed in the theoretical study of gravitation, while UMD Physics Professor Joseph Weber was leading a charge to experimentally detect gravitational waves in space-time—something predicted by Einstein’s theory that even Einstein doubted could be found.

In correspondence that followed the visit, among other things, Hawking asked Misner for job referrals. “Not that I was smarter than him—but I was older,” Misner cracked in a recent interview.

Even in the late ’60s, despite the increasing physical limitations brought on by his ALS, it was clear Hawking was headed for greatness, Misner said. Through the years, the two and their families continued meeting up during fellowships, at conferences and elsewhere, although communication for Hawking became more and more labored, Misner said. Hawking died in March 2018.

Last year, when the Department of Physics was seeking funds for a memorial to Weber—who failed in his personal quest to observe gravitational waves, but laid the critical groundwork for a later experiment that would succeed—Misner remembered the letters. Departmental staff helped ransack his overstuffed office, finally turning up four letters that were auctioned by Christie's, which will create an endowment in honor of Weber to support research in gravitational physics. The auction just closed on May 23, 2019, and the letters sold for a total of 228,750 GBP.  After commissions, this should endow the Weber fund with approximately $260,000.

Original story by Chris Carroll here.

Professors Chris Monroe and Jake Taylor Describe the National Quantum Initiative in Science Magazine

F1.largeA semiconductor chip ion trap, fabricated by Sandia National Laboratories, is composed of gold-plated electrodes that suspend individual atomic ion qubits above the surface of the chip. The chip (bow-tie shape) is about 10 mm across. The inset is a magnified image of 80 atomic 171Yb+ ions glowing from scattered laser radiation. PHOTO: KAI HUDEK/UMD/IONQ AND E. EDWARDS/JQIUMD physics professors Christopher Monroe and Jake Taylor, together with Michael Raymer of the University of Oregon, published an article on the National Quantum Initiative (NQI) in the May 3 issue of Science. The NQI Act, which was signed into law on December 21, 2018, lays out a plan for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy to work with academia and industry to further grow the quantum information science and technology (QIST) sector. Earlier this year, Monroe and Raymer wrote an article on the NQI for the February 2019 issue of Quantum Science and Technology, which details some of the events that ultimately led to this law.

The new article describes how the NQI aims to enable a so-called QIST ecosystem to study and overcome scientific challenges in this area, as well as build up a workforce educated in quantum science. Some of the possible outcomes of the NQI could include improved sensors, universally programmable quantum computers, and a more secure global communication network. The article also briefly summarizes possible risks associated with quantum research and development, including possible failure modes of the technology, as well as unforeseen ethical questions.

Monroe is the Bice-Seci Zorn Professor of Physics, a Distinguished University Professor, Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS). He also co-founded the quantum computing company IonQ. Monroe previously advocated for a NQI through the National Photonics Initiative and testified before a joint congressional committee hearing on the topic of American Leadership in Quantum Technology in 2017. A second JQI and QuICS Fellow Carl Williams, who is Acting Director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at NIST, provided expert testimony to congress at that same hearing.

Taylor is an adjunct professor in the Department of Physics, Co-Director of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science and Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He is also the Assistant Director for Quantum Information Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and was recently named the Interim Director for the National Quantum Coordination Office, which was established as part of the NQI.

Raymer is a Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences of the Oregon Center for Optical, Molecular and Quantum Science at the University of Oregon. Raymer has also been a strong advocate for developing a national strategy around QIST.