EAGER: Enabling Quantum Leap: Topological Nanoparticles as Potential Room-Temperature Qubits

Project: Research project

Project Details


Nontechnical description: Over the past half century, computer chips have become smaller and faster, enabling a technological revolution that encompasses everything from cell phones to space ships. Unfortunately, further improvements in speed and miniaturization are limited by fundamental materials constraints. One solution is to move to quantum computation, a new type of computing that uses quantum science to conduct computations faster than traditional computers. Quantum computers, however, have very different material requirements than traditional computers. This project investigates a relatively new class of materials called topological insulators to see if they are suitable as a platform for quantum computation when confined to nanoscale dimensions. A partnership with the Delaware Teachers Institute lets the research team present a twelve-week seminar related to the research to local K-12 educators who create teaching modules based on the seminar content. The partnership also allows the principal investigators to recruit Research Experience for Teachers participants for hands-on summer research.

Technical description: Quantum computation relies on qubits, two-level systems that can be entangled and used to perform computations. Ideally, these qubits work at room temperature, are robust to decoherence, and may be fabricated by scalable methods. Theoretical predictions indicate that topological insulators confined to nanoscale dimensions can exhibit discrete surface states that retain the topological protection of the bulk material, reducing decoherence. The objective of this proposal is to explore the existence and properties of these states, to assess whether their inherent topological protection makes them viable as room-temperature qubits. Topological insulator films are grown using molecular beam epitaxy and patterned into nanoparticles using standard lithographic techniques before being characterized by optical spectroscopy. The aim is to understand how the discrete state energies vary with particle size and Fermi energy position. The goal of the project is to have detailed measurements of the optical properties of topological insulator nanoparticles, to assess their viability as an entirely new platform for topologically-protected room-temperature qubits. A partnership between the principal investigators and the Delaware Teachers Institute (DTI) allows the principal investigators to present a twelve-week seminar to local K-12 teachers on the optical properties of materials. The teachers then create units on this topic to disseminate through DTI channels, as well as for use in their own classrooms. Research Experience for Teachers supplements allow local teachers to take part in hands-on research on this project in the summers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date12/1/1811/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $300,000.00


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