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Chicago Quantum Profile: Silvia Zorzetti

Fermilab senior engineer applies her hardware skills to quantum computing

Silvia Zorzetti did not start her physics journey in quantum information science and technology. Instead, with undergraduate and PhD degrees in electronic engineering from the University of Pisa in Italy, she worked at CERN and at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory on complex hardware for particle physics research.

But something about quantum drew her attention, and in 2017, she switched tracks.

“Quantum computing was just starting at that point, and it looked so interesting to me,” she said. “Accelerator science is still very cool, and I love it, but for quantum I was very excited to explore a new technology.”

Now, Zorzetti is back at Fermilab with a senior position at the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center (SQMS). She still works on complex hardware and electronics, but for quantum computing and networking rather than detecting particles. Within the center are two parallel efforts: improving the coherence and performance of the quantum computers, and developing algorithms and applications for them.

“Our main mission is to develop quantum computers with superconductors that can achieve quantum advantage, or calculate a problem faster than a classical computer,” she said.

As its name suggests, SQMS focuses on using superconducting materials for quantum applications. Superconducting materials need extremely cold temperatures to be able to work, so they are always inside very powerful refrigerators that keep the devices close to 0 degrees Kelvin, which is even colder than outer space.

Getting quantum information out of these refrigerators for the purposes of communication is a very challenging task. To enable reliable quantum networking, Zorzetti is working on better ways to translate quantum information from one form of energy to another, an ability called quantum transduction.

“Solving this issue is a big step in interconnecting superconducting quantum networks, and this is something that is really fascinating,” she said.

As advice for future quantum scientists, Zorzetti said: “Be curious, and don’t be scared to ask questions. You don’t need to be shy!” She pointed in particular to the strong sense of community at Fermilab and in the field in general, where scientists who work on different technologies still collaborate.

As a leader for the ecosystem and workforce development thrust at SQMS, she also wants to encourage young scientists to apply for as many opportunities as they can. SQMS hosts an undergraduate internship during the summer, where students have the opportunity to work at Fermilab or one of the 24 SQMS partner institutions and learn hands-on research tasks. Zorzetti especially encourages students from diverse backgrounds to apply.

“For girls and historically underrepresented groups, quantum computing and other new technologies are a gateway to get involved,” she said. “There is a lot of interest now for quantum computing, and I think that we can be really more inclusive to the next generation.”