Chicago Quantum Profile: Joe Heremans

Q&A with a quantum scientist from Argonne National Laboratory

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles of scientists and engineers from across the Chicago Quantum Exchange member institutions.

Joe Heremans is a staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, where he works on wide bandgap solid-state materials systems with individual atomic defects. These defects “trap” an electron whose quantum (spin) state can be manipulated with lasers, electric and strain fields, and microwaves. These systems have promising applications in quantum communication and nanoscale quantum sensing.

Tell us about what you're working on now.

My research focuses on exploring and developing solid-state quantum materials systems. Our group works to efficiently create, localize, and control these single electron states in materials like diamond and silicon carbide. We also focus a lot on the engineering of integrating these spin defect systems with other quantum systems, as well as coupling the emitted light efficiently. That’s important in our solid-state quantum network testbed experiments, where we would like to entangle photons from two individual defects separated by long distances (about 50 kilometers) for quantum communication.

How does your Argonne help advance your work?

Argonne has a very strong materials program, which is great for understanding our quantum-relevant materials platforms. The Center for Nanoscale Materials and the Advanced Photon Source provide exceptional nanofabrication and characterization facilities. Tools like the synchrotron let us image the local crystal environment surrounding our defects, allowing us to better understand the interplay between the defects and their material host and improve the fundamental material properties surrounding the defects.

How did you become interested in quantum research?

I have always had an interest in research in applied science. As an undergraduate, I studied computer engineering with an emphasis on control systems and computer hardware. This interest, combined with my initial courses in quantum physics, ultimately led me to quantum research. I ended up pursuing my Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of California – Santa Barbara, working in a very interdisciplinary group on defect-based quantum systems at the intersection of engineering, materials science, and fundamental physics.

You are working on systems for quantum communication and sensing. What does the future hold for quantum technology? 

Quantum technology holds a lot of promise in information processing, communication, and metrology, including harnessing the manipulation of quantum states for its computational power and communication protected by the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. The inherent fragile nature of quantum states makes them ideal sensors, provided you have the ability carefully control their local environment. That being said, like any new technology, these are the applications we can predict. The rise of these applications creates fascinating challenges in fundamental physics, materials science, and nanoscale engineering that we aim to answer.

Quantum technology has a workforce shortage. What would you say to a young person who is interested in studying quantum information science?

The rise in interest in quantum information science is already a great start. Many students are exposed to basic quantum concepts late in their academic studies, so being interested and engaged in the field early is a quite beneficial first step. I would also encourage those interested in studying QIS to not be dissuaded by the perceived complexity and abstractness of quantum mechanics. There are numerous challenges, both fundamental and technical, that require collective insight to overcome. Because of this, the field of QIS is incredibly interdisciplinary, diverse, and full of opportunities, requiring a workforce from a variety of technical and scientific backgrounds.