Professor Alessandra Buonanno Awarded the Leibniz Prize

The DFG announced today that Professor Alessandra Buonanno will be honoured with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz prize for her key role in the first direct observations of gravitational waves. This long-awaited discovery is a historic scientific milestone, and was awarded this year’s Nobel prize in Physics. Alessandra Buonanno is one of the scientists who made the detection possible.  

Read more.

UMD Associated Research Included in Physics World Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2017

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) tops the charts for the 2017 Breakthrough of the Year with Physics World with the first multimessenger observation of a neutron-star merger.  UMD Professors Alessandra Buonanno and Peter Shawhan are both collaborators with LIGO and have contributed to the detection of the fourth gravitational wave

Professor Chris Monroe and his colleagues have also been included in the Physics World Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2017 for their research on time crystals.  The study of time crystals was first envisioned five years ago when Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek proposed the idea.  Chris Monroe has one of the leading experiments.  His group uses trapped ions to create time crystals in their lab. Physics World also recognizes Mikhail Lukin and his collaborators at Harvard University who have been simultaneously working with time crystals using diamond defects.



Physics and Astronomy Alumnus Charles Bennett Receives 2018 Breakthrough Prize

Alumnus Charles L. Bennett (B.S. Physics and Astronomy, 1978) has received the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics “for detailed maps of the early universe that greatly improved our knowledge of the evolution of the cosmos and the fluctuations that seeded the formation of galaxies.” Bennett, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, led the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) mission. Members of the WMAP team will share the $3 million prize for their measurements and insights into the young universe.

Prof. Bennett also received the 2017 Institute of Physics (IOP) Isaac Newton Medal and Prize, the Caterina Tomassoni and Felice Pietro Chisesi Prize, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, the Shaw Prize in Astronomy and the National Academy of Sciences’ Draper Medal and Comstock Prize in Physics. He was the Department of Physics Alumnus of the Year in 2003.


Quantum Physics and Gravity Meet in New Assistant Professor's Research

Two landmark achievements of 20th century physics remain stubbornly isolated, despite decades of attempts by scientists to bring them together.

On their own, they’ve been wildly successful. General relativity—Einstein’s grand theory of gravity—fused space and time into a single entity. It birthed the global positioning system and forever changed our conception of the cosmos. Quantum physics, the theory that governs the microscopic realm, powered the engines of the digital revolution, and it’s lighting the way to a new paradigm in computing.

But the two fields have largely been marooned on parallel tracks, rarely intersecting because they seem to describe such disparate domains of reality. “When electricity flows through a circuit, gravity is there,” says Brian Swingle, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland and the newest fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS). “We just don’t usually need it to describe the physics, so we ignore it.”

That might be fine for the physics of electrical circuits, Swingle says, but scientists expect a unified picture to emerge for the highest-energy, densest material in the universe—a picture in which quantum physics and gravity contribute on equal footing. Swingle, who arrived at UMD this past summer, is part of a vanguard of physicists exploring the connections between these two fields. His work blends quantum information and condensed matter physics with a pinch of gravity, and it’s unearthing curious connections between some of the most eye-catching phenomena that modern physics has on offer—things like quantum entanglement and black holes.

He hopes to expand on this work at Maryland and foster more collaboration between experts in all of these fields. “I think UMD has a lot of great resources, and there’s an opportunity now for new connections to be forged,” Swingle says. “That’s definitely one of the things that really excites me.”

Swingle’s interest in physics was kindled as a teenager, when a set of mysterious symbols captured his imagination. “Senior year of high school I somehow got interested in Maxwell’s equations,” he says, recounting his first contact with the four equations that are the distillation all of the 19th century’s knowledge about electricity and magnetism. “There was this mysterious picture with upside down triangles, which looked like gobbledygook, and it seemed really interesting to me. I’ve sort of been hooked ever since.”

He pursued a physics degree as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where he got an early start in research, writing software to simulate the behavior of many interacting particles and spending a summer working as a research assistant at the University of Washington.

He arrived at MIT for graduate school in 2005 with a loose plan to study condensed matter physics. But some early projects didn’t work out. “I thought about switching to neuroscience,” Swingle says. “I was thinking of working on birdsong. I had a general interest in information networks and higher organization.”

But his neuroscience career also stalled, and eventually he ended up back in condensed matter physics working with Xiao-Gang Wen, a luminary in the field. Wen asked Swingle to look into a problem involving quantum entanglement, the curiously strong connection that two quantum objects can share, and something clicked. Swingle became fascinated with entanglement, calculating the entanglement properties of a variety of quantum systems. “I was looking for some kind of picture,” he says, “but I didn’t really know what it was.”

That all changed when he took a class in string theory, the theoretical effort to recast all of modern physics in the language of tiny vibrating strings. String theory made one of the earliest attempts to shoehorn gravity into quantum physics, and over the course of several decades string theorists discovered some interesting relationships between the two. One such connection was a duality between quantum physics playing out in a particular universe and a theory of gravity in a universe with one extra dimension.

Swingle explains the gist of that relationship using a round table. Imagine that the table’s edge—a circle that wraps its perimeter—is a one-dimensional universe with a bunch of interacting quantum systems. It turns out that picking a particular quantum state for this encompassing ring limits what can happen in the interior—the tabletop itself—and vice versa. The truly strange thing is that the tabletop ends up endowed with gravity, but it’s now a theory of gravity in two dimensions. “The question you can kind of ask is ‘Where does the extra dimension come from?’” Swingle says.

It’s a lot of abstract math that need not have much to do with our universe, but Swingle discovered a particular way in which this abstraction becomes real. “I started to see these connections,” Swingle says. “It was starting to gel in an interesting way.”

Tensor networks—graphical webs that can represent the complicated states of interacting quantum systems—provided the key ingredient. Drawing the tensor network of a quantum system living on the edge of a table turned out to be a picture of a theory of gravity inside, a discrete snapshot of the fabric of spacetime on the tabletop. It was a simple theory of quantum gravity, albeit one that does not describe our universe. “Quantum gravity in any spacetime is sufficiently mysterious and sufficiently poorly understood that it's worth understanding even a toy case,” Swingle says.

Since his pioneering result, Swingle has continued to develop the relationship between quantum entanglement—depicted via hierarchical webs of tensor networks—and geometry, and has recently been thinking about the role complexity and computation play in all of it. A recent paper with several collaborators demonstrated a precise mathematical connection between the complexity of a quantum state and the geometry of its dual theory of gravity. It’s part of a body of work that is continuing to shift physicists’ perspectives on quantum gravity. “The old slogan used to be that entanglement was the fabric of spacetime,” Swingle says. “Now maybe it’s more general. Maybe now we think of spacetime itself as a computational history of some process—the picture of the quantum circuit that prepares the quantum state, something like that.”

Now, as an assistant professor at UMD, Swingle hopes to continue research along these lines, perhaps bringing more quantum information tools into the fray. He is also a co-principal investigator for the “It from Qubit” collaboration launched by the Simons Foundation. The name is a play on “it from bit,” a phrase coined by physicist John Archibald Wheeler that underscored the significance of information to the bedrock upon which reality sits. “Of course, information is quantum mechanical, since the world is quantum mechanical,” Swingle says. “Somehow that’s an important ingredient in the story—the quantum-ness is really important.”

Swingle encourages any students interested in learning more about his research to contact him directly or stop by his weekly group meeting, which is typically held on Thursdays at 5 p.m. in PSC 3150.

—Story by Chris Cesare

Congressional Hearing Highlights Need for Quantum Technology Initiative

Credit: E. Edwards/JQI

On October 24, 2017, two Fellows of the Joint Quantum Institute and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science were among those that testified during a joint congressional committee hearing on the topic of American Leadership in Quantum Technology.

Carl Williams and Christopher Monroe attended as expert panelists, reading prepared statements and answering questions from committee members. Williams, who is also the deputy director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), provided testimony about quantum research at NIST. Monroe—a Distinguished University Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland (UMD) and a co-founder and chief scientist at UMD-based startup IonQ, Inc—advocated for a National Quantum Initiative in his testimony. Both shared their perspectives on the path toward industry’s adoption of this emerging new technology.

The hearing focused on the status of quantum research in the US. Two panels with a total of six experts from government, industry, academia, and national laboratories testified. The witnesses emphasized that quantum information science will play a critical role in future advanced computing and secure communications. They also noted potential applications related to chemistry, medicine, artificial intelligence, and even space exploration.

In answering questions about the maturity of quantum information research, participants cited both Monroe’s and IBM’s small-scale quantum devices. According to panelists, commercialization of quantum technology is an imminent reality, rather than a futuristic goal. Participants discussed the global impact that industrial quantum science will have, noting that governments worldwide are investing in large-scale quantum research. China, Australia and Europe, in particular, are beginning to pour massive resources into funding quantum research.

Quantum at Maryland

UMD’s flagship College Park campus is home to a thriving quantum enterprise that is actively producing a competitive workforce, delivering innovative research, and attracting a network of strategic partners. With more than 175 scientists on-site and countless collaborations within a vast global research network, quantum programs at Maryland are leading the charge toward a quantum future.

  • The Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), founded in 2006, is a physics research partnership with NIST and the Laboratory for Physical Sciences dedicated to intensely studying quantum science.

  • A quantum-focused NSF Physics Frontier Center was first awarded to UMD in 2008 and renewed in 2014. This is a prestigious designation that promotes collaborative exploration of challenging but highly promising research areas.
  • UMD enjoys vital relationships with industrial and government-laboratory efforts in quantum computing, such as Microsoft, Northrop-Grumman, Sandia National Laboratories, the Army Research Laboratory, Booz-Allen-Hamilton, and the startup IonQ, Inc. Many UMD graduates have taken positions at these places. 


E. Edwards | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | (301) 405-2291

AIP story "US Place in Quantum Race Probed at House Hearing"