Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2015

Kai-Mei C. Fu

Assistant Professor of Physics , University of Washington

Zinc Oxide Impurity-Bound Electrons for Optics-Based Quantum Information

A good quantum node is hard to find.

And researchers want to find one to study because it will surely play a vital role in quantum computing, a novel method that has been proven theoretically to outperform “classical” computing for certain tasks, including factoring and searching.

Kai-Mei C. Fu, assistant professor of physics at the University of Washington, explains that quantum computing relies on the photon, the smallest packet of light energy, as ideal for transmitting quantum information. However, due to its speed and the difficulty of engineering photon-photon interactions, the photon is a poor choice for quantum information processing.

While many theoretical quantum information protocols exist based on using photonic “wires” between quantum processing nodes, Fu said, “The outstanding problem is that a good quantum node has not been found.”

Fu has received Cottrell Scholar funding to help her find the elusive prize.

But what, exactly, is a quantum node?

In Fu’s research, it is an electron spin state. Electrons not only have charge, positive or negative, they also have a quality called spin, which is defined as an inherent angular momentum, either “up” or “down.”

In search of the perfect quantum node, Fu and her research associates intend to focus – literally -- on the properties of individual electrons bound to atoms in high-purity zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowire. A nanowire is incredibly thin, only a few atoms in width -- much thinner than the most delicate human hair.

“The high quality of the nanowire will facilitate optical probing of the fundamental electron properties,” Fu said. One of her major goals will be to determine the amount of time that a ZnO electron can preserve quantum information.

She has a hunch that if her research is successful, ZnO “could significantly outperform all current quantum bit candidates for photon-based quantum information platforms.”

Fu is also using some of her Cottrell Scholar funding to create an online peer and self-evaluation process for students in large, introductory classes to help motivate them to tackle difficult physics problems. She is also upgrading a course which focuses on the use of computers in the modern laboratory to include experiments that probe the quantum realm. And she is giving undergraduates the opportunity conduct independent research in her lab.

Return to list