Joseph C. Bardin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is one of 36 faculty members across the country named as recipients of the Office of Naval Research 2015 Young Investigator Program (ONR YIP) award. Bardin’s proposal, entitled Superconducting Nanowire Quantum Samplers, has requested a grant of $510,000 for three years. The 36 awardees were chosen from 383 research proposals. The ONR described the honor as “a defining moment” for the 36 grant recipients. Read ONR YIP press release.
Bardin’s project will create a device that is able to read the number of photons in an optical pulse. This measuring tool is considered to be one of the essential building blocks for constructing powerful new computers, based on quantum mechanical systems, capable of working out massive problems that cannot be solved using conventional computers of any other type.
Bardin observes that “The field of quantum information sciences is a rapidly expanding area in which the unique properties of quantum mechanical systems are exploited to enable new devices and systems that cannot be realized any other way. Proposed applications of these technologies include powerful computer systems capable of solving massive problems that cannot be solved using conventional computers and communication systems that are inherently secure. However, to transition such systems from concept to reality requires a robust set of building blocks that can be used to create larger systems. One such building block is a device that is able to give a reading of the number of light quanta—or photons—in an optical pulse. While such devices have begun to exist, they are either too slow or not accurate enough for real-world applications.”
Bardin’s ONR YIP research will combine silicon circuit technology with superconducting nanowire single photon detectors to realize a detector that is able to count photons in the near-IR frequency range with unprecedented speed and accuracy.
“The device will operate by converting each photon in a short optical pulse into a nanoscale ‘hotspot’—a region of elevated temperature—within the nanowire,” says Bardin. “The process of converting optical energy to hotspots will be accomplished on the timescale of tens of picoseconds. Finally, the number of hotspots in the nanowire will be read out by the silicon circuit, thereby providing a measure of the number of photons in the pulse.”
Specific areas of research that Bardin must address to implement this device include the design and modeling of appropriate nanowire devices and semiconductor circuits, as well as the integration of these two sets of devices.
As the Office of Naval Research explains, “The Young Investigator Program is designed to promote the professional development of early-career academic scientists - called investigators, or YIPs - both as researchers and instructors. For awardees, the funding supports laboratory equipment, graduate student stipends and scholarships, and other expenses critical to ongoing and planned investigational studies.”