PASADENA, Calif.—The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has been awarded $12.6 million in funding over the next five years by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a new Physics Frontiers Center. Dubbed the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM), the center will bring physicists and computer scientists together to push theoretical and experimental boundaries in the study of exotic quantum states.
Every three years, the NSF selects new Physics Frontier Centers for funding based on their potential for transformational advances in the most promising research areas at the intellectual frontiers of physics. Caltech's IQIM was chosen for funding from more than 50 proposals this year.
The NSF's decision to fund the IQIM leverages the groundwork done by the Center for Exotic Quantum Systems (CEQS), a program funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as well as an earlier NSF-sponsored Institute for Quantum Information (IQI). With the support of the NSF and the Moore Foundation, the new Physics Frontiers Center, CEQS, and IQI will be merged into a single entity—the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter.
"The unrestricted funds provided by the Moore Foundation had a dramatic effect on the decision to fund this Physics Frontiers Center," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "That discretionary funding allowed the provost to provide seed money to what might otherwise have been considered a somewhat risky, unconventional field of study. Now, it is one of our most exciting and rapidly growing research initiatives."
Fundamental particles at the atomic level behave according to the laws of quantum physics, which in many respects defy common sense. At this level, individual particles of a composite system can become strongly correlated, or entangled, in such a way that they maintain their relation to one another no matter where they exist in the universe. Such quantum entanglement can endow a system with astonishing properties.
The IQIM will bring together Caltech's established theoretical programs and analytic tools for studying the quantum realm with emerging laboratory capabilities that will allow scientists to delve deeper into quantum entanglement and the unimagined behaviors it may yield. The research is aimed at making advances in basic physics, as well as helping to provide scientific foundations for designing materials with remarkable properties; additionally, this work may eventually help point the way to a quantum computer capable of solving problems that today's digital computers could never handle.
"My colleagues and I believe that an exciting frontier of 21st-century science is the exploration of the surprising phenomena that can arise in highly entangled quantum systems," says H. Jeff Kimble, the William L. Valentine Professor and professor of physics at Caltech, who will direct the IQIM. "The IQIM will provide a sustaining base for our efforts to discover new principles and phenomena at this entanglement frontier."
In addition to Kimble, the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter will be led by three codirectors: Jim Eisenstein, the current director of CEQS and the Frank J. Roshek Professor of Physics and Applied Physics; Oskar Painter, professor of applied physics and executive officer for applied physics and materials science; and John Preskill, the current director of the IQI and the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics.
Studies of quantum entanglement and its applications are necessarily multidisciplinary in nature. Therefore, the 16 Caltech faculty members who will make up the core of the new center are drawn from such disciplines as physics, applied physics, and computer science. The newly renovated historic Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics and the IQI's home base in the Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology will serve as two central hubs for IQIM faculty on campus.
"When you bring innovative scientists and engineers together and provide them with the facilities and collaborative spaces they need, magic happens. The magic involves transforming the way we think about and impact our world," says Ares Rosakis, chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) at Caltech. "I am delighted that an initial collaboration beginning in 2000 between the Division of Engineering and Applied Science (EAS) and the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA)—the Institute of Quantum Information (IQI)—planted the seeds for this new NSF institute at Caltech."
Written by Kimm Fesenmaier