Chicago Quantum Profile: Virginia Lorenz

For UIUC's Virginia Lorenz, quantum is about community

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

When physics professor Virginia Lorenz was a student, she studied phenomena that were fairly esoteric, but the skills she developed offered an entry point to a field with a much larger community: quantum technology.

Lorenz says the large, interactive quantum research community is one of her favorite things about the field.

“Quantum theory brings in people from so many different areas,” she said. “The exciting part for me has been interacting with people in other fields like electrical and computer engineering, materials science…mathematicians, computer scientists—I love the interdisciplinary aspect of it.”

Lorenz’s work focuses on light particles, called photons, which are fundamental to almost all quantum information applications. Most of these applications can be found in Lorenz’s lab: quantum communication; quantum memory, or the storage of quantum information; quantum tomography, or the reconstruction of quantum states from measured data; and quantum astronomy, which includes using quantum mechanics to make more powerful telescopes.

She says the diversity of her work allows her to take full advantage of quantum technology’s interdisciplinary nature.

“I definitely do a lot of collaborations,” she said, noting that she routinely works with researchers in the electrical engineering and materials science departments.

In addition to her research, Lorenz is the liaison for education and outreach at the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she helps design programming for local middle and high school students. She says the quantum community’s “collective emphasis on outreach” is another of her favorite aspects of working in the field.

“Because there are all these interesting applications, this public interest, the funding and enthusiasm exists to do things at a scale where you're actually reaching a lot of people—helping with their education, their path through science by exposing them to this cutting-edge research,” she said.

She is currently devoting a lot of time to building a local outreach program that will use the fiber infrastructure already present in the Urbana-Champaign area to expose more of the public to quantum communication technology—the work is still in its nascent stage and will ramp up in the coming months. Until then, her main message to students thinking about joining the field is that they are guaranteed to find a great deal of value in it, from the people they’ll meet to the skills they’ll learn.

“No matter which platform or application for quantum mechanics is most successful, the interdisciplinary nature of it makes it a really fun and stimulating field to work in,” Lorenz said. “I think it's about the community, and about the tools that you get by working in that community. And that's why I'm excited to be in it.”