Physicist Javad Shabani will lead a team of scientists, under a $7.5 million research award, in developing ways to improve quantum computing.

Photo credit: Selman Keles/Getty Images.

Research Backed by $7.5 Million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Award

New York University Physicist Javad Shabani will lead a team of scientists, under a $7.5 million research award, in developing ways to improve quantum computing—work aimed at advancing the performance of semiconductors and superconductors, which fuel personal electronics, medical diagnostic equipment, and mass transit.

The award is part of the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI). MURI is backing 28 research teams across more than 60 U.S. academic institutions with a total of $195 million over five years to conduct basic research spanning multiple scientific disciplines. 

“By supporting teams whose members have diverse sets of expertise, the MURI program acknowledges that the complexities of modern science and engineering challenges often intersect more than one discipline and require creative and diverse approaches to tackle these problems,” said Bindu Nair, director, Basic Research Office, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, in announcing the awards. “This cross-fertilization of ideas can accelerate research progress to enable more rapid R&D breakthroughs and hasten the transition of basic research findings to practical application. It is a program that signifies a legacy of scientific impact and remains a cornerstone of the DoD’s basic research portfolio.”

Previously, Shabani and his colleagues uncovered a new state of matter—a breakthrough that offers promise for increasing storage capabilities in electronic devices and enhancing quantum computing. 

Under the MURI award, Shabani and his colleagues from Yale University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Maryland, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will build on the earlier discovery by exploring, more deeply, means to optimize quantum computing—a method that can make calculations at significantly faster rates than conventional computing.

Specifically, they will focus on Majorana zero modes (MZMs), which are zero-energy quasiparticles that have special properties. For example, they remember their movement history.  This makes them robust and immune to local noise and errors and, therefore, can be used as building blocks of fault-tolerant topological quantum computers. This allows for long-lived storage of quantum information and more accurate quantum processing. The concept of MZMs can be traced back to the 1930s as a mathematical construction. However, despite recent breakthroughs, efforts to use them in technologies have been largely elusive.

Shabani’s team will seek to establish MZMs’ viability, creating the potential to vastly improve the functionality of both semiconductors and superconductors. Here, they will build on

Josephson junctions (JJs)—layers of semiconducting material placed in between two layers of superconducting material to drive a transition from trivial to topological regime where they can “host” MZMs. These JJs can be placed in microwave circuits for fast readout and manipulation of information paving the way to realize first topological qubits.

These resulting devices will be created with design flexibility in mind—and with the potential to be “scaled up” for use in commercial, industrial, and medical instruments.

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