‘This time has invigorated my curiosity’

In the fourth segment of the Open Quantum Initiative series, fellows describe their work in the emerging field of quantum communication

In the fourth installment of a six-part series highlighting the 2023 Open Quantum Initiative fellows, two undergraduates who researched quantum communication experiments and protocols this summer describe their work, discuss what they learned, and offer advice to young people who are interested in the growing field. Read previous installments that feature students who spent their summer researching quantum memory applications, working with and designing new experimental tools, and studying nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond. Watch for additional Q&As in the coming days with fellows who researched quantum algorithms and evaluated defects and dopants in materials for quantum applications.    

Kenneth Muhammad

Home Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Major: Electrical Science and Engineering
OQI Institution: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Faculty Mentor: Paul Kwiat, Sony Bardeen Chair in Physics and Electrical & Computer Engineering

Q: What was the focus of your OQI research this summer?
A: Our goal was to implement an active stabilization scheme for a tabletop interferometer setup and photonic integrated chip setup for use in time-bin encoding of quantum information. 

Q: What was your role?
A: I built a tabletop Michelson interferometer setup and programmed a microcontroller to actively control the position of a translation stage using a piezoelectric actuator. I wrote some accompanying code to easily modify the control parameters and calculate the optimal setpoint using Python. I spent time learning theory as well and used this knowledge to inform my design. 

Q: What have you gained from the OQI experience? 
A: I have gained practical experience building optical setups, programming microcontrollers, and designing a system that is user-friendly. Perhaps the most useful experience I have received is working with other researchers in the lab and both communicating my ideas clearly and asking them the right questions so as to learn as much as possible. Working in the lab allowed me the unique opportunity to learn things like quantum information science alongside building a project that uses the same theory, and I don’t think I could have gotten that anywhere else. 

Q: What new perspectives do you have about quantum information science and engineering (QISE)?
A: I used to not think much of the quantum technologies of today due to their lack of tangible applications and my lack of knowledge on the subject. Now, I believe that QISE is a rapidly growing field and there are likely many applications that we haven’t thought of yet. I’m excited to see what new branches of technology emerge as this whole thing unfolds. 

Q: What’s next for you? 
A: I am interested in learning more about applications of quantum information science, so I will likely find myself working in a lab continuing research in something that combines electronics and quantum mechanics. I’m also hoping to use my math background to dive deeper into the potential of this field. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of research?
A: I mainly enjoy playing video games, reading books, and going for walks in places I’ve never been. 

Q: What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in pursuing a career in QISE?
A: Pursue what you enjoy and play to your strengths. 

Rain Wang

Home Institution: Harvard University
Major: Physics
OQI Institution: Argonne National Laboratory
Faculty Mentor: F. Joseph Heremans, staff scientist, Argonne; affiliated scientist at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago

Q: What was the focus of your OQI research this summer?
A: Both projects that I worked on aimed toward realizing real-world quantum networking. In quantum networking, like any network, you have nodes and you have connections that are essential to the network’s function. This summer, my main project optimized the connections in the Chicago Quantum Network, while my second project delved into characterizing a potential node for quantum communication.

Q: What was your role?
A: For my main project, I performed various analysis techniques to characterize the polarization drift in the fibers and eventually implement a protocol that would correct this drift (later phase as well). This was important for retaining information and clear communication. In my second project, I designed, optimized, and built an optical/modulator setup that would enable the characterization of vanadium spin-defect in silicon carbide so that we can further understand its properties and potential for quantum communication.

Q: What have you gained from the OQI experience?
A: I am extremely grateful for the wealth of knowledge, relationships, and resources that I have gained from the OQI experience. I had never been able to explore quantum this deeply prior to OQI, and this time has invigorated my curiosity and motivation to pursue such a new and exciting field through different avenues.

Q: What new perspectives do you have about quantum information science and engineering?
A: There is so much more opportunity in this field than I think I previously understood. There are research, entrepreneurial, and communications opportunities — and more. Further, while current industry eyes are mostly on quantum computing, this experience has led to my developing interest in quantum sensing and communication. I’m excited to explore.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m curious to explore the different sides of quantum beyond research. Quantum is such an interdisciplinary field — I want to see all its potential. While I love science, I am curious about industry-side roles and how to facilitate this science becoming accessible to the public. In summary: I’m not sure, but I am looking forward to finding out!

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of research?
A: On campus, I am involved in activities from our Asian American Dance Troupe to Tech for Social Good club. I am very passionate about accessible education and empowering underrepresented people in STEM. I involve myself in mentorship programs and affinity groups that realize those goals. I also love to cook, bake, exercise, and paint with friends and family.

Q: What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in pursuing a career in QISE?
A: It’s never too early to discover your passions! There are so many available opportunities and resources to start investigating quantum at any age, you just have to look (OQI is an amazing example). It can be extremely daunting, but you can take that first step. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people; people are always happy to help.

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