Two Argonne scientists awarded DOE funding for quantum research

Argonne’s David Awschalom and Oleg Poluektov study the materials and chemical processes needed to develop the next generation of quantum-smart devices and quantum computing technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded funding to two scientists at its Argonne National Laboratory to advance research in quantum information science: David Awschalom and Oleg Poluektov.

The DOE awards support the development of quantum-smart devices and quantum computing technology, next-generation tools that can solve today’s most pressing challenges, including in national security, novel material development and logistics.

Quantum science represents the next technological revolution and frontier in the Information Age, and America stands at the forefront,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. At DOE, we’re investing in the fundamental research, led by universities and our national labs, that will enhance our resiliency in the face of growing cyber threats and climate disasters, paving the path to a cleaner, more secure future.”

Awschalom, an Argonne senior scientist, received the award to further the science needed to develop a metropolitan-scale quantum information network — analogous to the internet — without the need for quantum repeater technologies. Quantum repeaters retransmit a signal that would otherwise weaken before reaching its destination in a quantum network.

Using a three-node fiber network in Chicagoland as a testbed for transferring quantum information, Awschalom’s project is to develop repeaterless quantum networking technologies and protocols under real-world conditions, including multinode quantum networking, synchronizing different types of quantum nodes and distributing quantum entanglement (a property of subatomic particles).

The metropolitan-scale repeaterless technology and fiber-network protocol development complement the chip-scale quantum technologies and repeater protocols being developed within Q-NEXT, a DOE National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by Argonne.

I’m pleased to receive this award, which allows us to explore the science that underlies future game-changing quantum communication technologies,” said Awschalom, who is also the director of Q-NEXT; the University of Chicago Liew Family professor in molecular engineering and physics and Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering vice dean for research and infrastructure; and the director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. ​We are at the cusp of a revolution in quantum science, and discoveries we make here will have far-reaching impacts, leading to breakthroughs in areas as diverse as finance and medicine — and even beyond what we can imagine.”   

Argonne senior chemist Oleg Poluektov received his award to understand how quantum effects influence solar energy conversion processes in nature. The study focuses on the effects of coherence, which refers to how long and how strongly a particular quantum state persists.

Scientists know that certain types of coherence — electronic and vibronic — are involved in the transport of light energy in photosynthetic proteins, which help convert the light into energy. Now Poluektov is investigating whether a third type, spin coherence, is also involved.

Spin is a property of all subatomic particles, including electrons. The spins of two electrons can become entangled — inseparably correlated. The longer the spins maintain their entangled state, the greater their spin coherence. Spin entanglement is a key factor in birds’ inner compasses, enabling them to navigate the globe. Might it be a factor in photosynthetic processes?

Poluektov will investigate how spin coherence contributes to the efficiency of photosynthetic solar energy conversion. He will also identify the mechanisms nature uses for preserving spin entanglement in photosynthesis.

I’m grateful to have been chosen for this award,” Poluektov said. ​We expect that the results from this work will contribute to the design of future artificial solar energy conversion systems. It’s one example of how a better understanding of the quantum realm could have profound impacts on energy conservation.”

The DOE award for quantum information science research totals $73 million and will be distributed to 29 recipients.

This work is supported by the DOE’s Office of Science.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.