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Science & Technology

University secures federal funding to enable advanced quantum research

A ZOOM WITH A VIEW:The University of Rochester’s current transmission electron microscope (pictured in 2011) will be replaced with a state-of-the-art model that boasts atomic-scale resolution, an acquisition made possible by Congressional support for federal funding. “Our research programs will be effectively ‘turbo-charged’ by this new capability,” says URnano director Nicholas Bigelow. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

The funding supports the acquisition of a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope to accelerate research in quantum information science.

As a direct result of Congressional support, the University of Rochester is receiving $1.25 million to obtain and install a new advanced multipurpose transmission electron microscope as part of the fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill. The new instrument will replace the University’s current instrument, which is beyond its expected lifetime, and enhance the ability of researchers in the greater Rochester area and beyond to conduct advanced quantum research.

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is essential for Rochester’s research efforts in established areas of strength, including quantum information science (QIS); materials science; high-energy-density science; optics, photonics, and imaging; and immersive technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality.

The new transmission electron microscope’s atomic-scale resolution accurately characterizes samples and fabricated devices, enabling researchers to visualize material structures directly in real space with exceptionally high resolution. This capability is vital for studying quantum materials and devices, including qubits, quantum gates, and quantum sensors.

Stephen Dewhurst, the vice president for research at the University, says, “The acquisition of this advanced electron microscope is a game-changer for our research enterprise, especially in the areas of quantum science and advanced semiconductor research, which are critical not only to the University, but also to our national security and scientific pre-eminence.”

Recognizing the Congressional delegation’s efforts on behalf of Rochester, Dewhurst adds, “We are very grateful to Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Representative Morelle for their incredible ongoing support and for this new funding. It will support our current projects while attracting top talent to the University, enhancing our collaborations with industry, and contributing to the region’s economic growth.”

The region’s cutting-edge transmission electron microscope facility

The new transmission electron microscope will be housed at URnano, the University’s Integrated Nanosystems Center, which serves as a user facility for the University community, industry, corporations, faculty, and students at other institutions. The location ensures that the equipment will be a key regional asset for advanced research and development, supporting the growth of the QIS and optics, photonics, and lasers sectors in the greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

“The opportunity to bring a state-of-the-art electron microscope to URnano, to the University of Rochester, and to the Rochester area will accelerate our work on quantum and nanotechnologies, as well as our training of the next-generation workforce,” says URnano director and physics professor Nicholas Bigelow. “URnano’s users are students and faculty of the University, as well as neighboring universities and colleges, and our industrial partners. The new microscope will be used by these scientists not only to develop quantum devices and semiconductor electronic devices, but also in work on optics, biomedicine, geology, chemistry, semiconductors, and more. Many of our research programs will be effectively ‘turbo-charged’ by this new capability.”

The acquisition of the new equipment will position URnano as a cutting-edge electron microscope facility, according to John Tarduno, the dean for research for the University’s School of Arts & Sciences and Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences.

“I’m thrilled by the Congressional support,” Tarduno says. “This instrumentation is especially timely because it will afford faculty and students the ability to further explore—on an atomic scale—the behavior of materials key for quantum technologies, a critical research area today and one in which University faculty have been pioneers.”

Rochester’s fundamental contributions to quantum information science

As the birthplace of quantum optics and key elements of quantum coherence, the University of Rochester has a long and distinguished history of fundamental contributions to quantum information science and engineering.

Pioneers and luminaries with Rochester connections span the decades. Physics professor Leonard Mandel founded the branch of physics known as quantum optics and was the first to demonstrate photon self-interference. Emil Wolf, a longtime Rochester professor and a pioneer in optical physics, built the foundations of coherence theory; with physicist and alumnus Girish Agarwal ’69 (PhD), Wolf connected those foundations to quantum optics. Alumnus George Sudarshan ’58 (PhD) invented quantum descriptions of light, while Joseph Eberly, a professor of physics and of optics, achieved deep insights in atom-photon interaction. At Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland ’89 (PhD) made revolutionary advances in laser science that would earn them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018.

Today, there are more than a dozen different research groups at the University involved in some aspect of quantum optics. Rochester continues to expand its leadership in quantum science and technology, educating tomorrow’s quantum leaders, as well as making strategic partnerships with industry to rapidly grow quantum technologies. For example, the University was recently designated as one of six new NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) sites to provide undergraduate students with hands-on research opportunities in STEM priority areas related to semiconductors.

The new federal funding for the transmission electron microscope deepens the University’s commitment to expanding its QIS research capacity, which includes a 10-year initiative to increase the Institute of Optics faculty by 50 percent, reinforcing the institute’s preeminent position in quantum optics. This commitment aligns with Boundless Possibility, the University’s 2030 strategic plan, and with strategic federal research policies, including the National Quantum Initiative and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

Congressional support bolsters advanced quantum research

Government officials expressed their enthusiasm and support for the new TEM funding:

US Senator Charles Schumer: “I’m thrilled to have delivered this critical $1.25 million in funding that will lift URnano, the University’s Integrated Nanosystems Center, to new heights. By bringing this new state-of-the-art electron microscope to Rochester, URnano will be an epicenter of innovation to drive new breakthroughs in making semiconductor and quantum devices. This will also leverage the investments made possible by my Chips and Science Act that are now transforming Upstate and the Finger Lakes region into a semiconductor manufacturing and research hub while pushing Rochester’s leadership in optics technology into leading edge fields like quantum optics.”

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “The University of Rochester is recognized as a leader in quantum research, and through the acquisition of an electron microscope at URnano, the U of R can continue to serve as a strong R&D asset in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region for faculty, students, and industry partners alike. I’m proud to have secured the funding for this research equipment through the congressionally directed spending process, and I look forward to seeing the results of the University’s groundbreaking and exploratory research across many scientific disciplines come into focus.”

Congressman Joe Morelle: “The University of Rochester’s Integrated Nanosystems Center (URNano) is a state-of-the-art facility helping to advance Rochester’s position as a leader in nanotechnology research and development. As a part of the Community Project Funding process, I’m proud to have secured $1.25 million to assist URnano in purchasing new quantum research equipment, which will help further their prestigious position in this field. I’m grateful for the U of R’s continued commitment to pushing the envelope and exploring new areas of science, and I look forward to seeing all the scientific breakthroughs that result from this investment.”

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