Hannes Bernien receives NSF CAREER award to unlock potential of quantum networks

UChicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering Assistant Professor Hannes Bernien has been awarded a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award by The National Science Foundation for his proposal to construct and connect quantum network nodes through a phenomenon called quantum entanglement.

Building a quantum version of the internet would bring about a new paradigm in information processing, including un-hackable communication, networked sensing with unparalleled sensitivity, and scalable, distributed quantum computing.

“I am greatly honored to receive this award,” said Bernien, assistant professor of molecular engineering. “This will enable us to tackle some of the biggest challenges in quantum science, as well as help us engage more of our community on what quantum means for the future.”

The NSF CAREER award supports newly established faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and who will lead advances in their field. Bernien’s submission, “Connecting Remote Atomic Quantum Registers via Entanglement,” will receive nearly $700,000 in funding over the course of the award.

Bernien’s proposal focuses on a critical challenge at the forefront of building this quantum internet – which is both connecting distant network nodes with entanglement (a quantum state in which a change in one particle elicits a change in the other) and storing and further processing entanglement at the nodes. This is a challenge as entanglement is fragile and the quantum information that is encoded in these states is easily lost.

Bernien Lab will construct quantum network nodes that consist of an array of individually trapped neutral atoms. These atoms form a quantum register that can store entanglement for long times and further process these entangled states. The register will be coupled to a light-matter interface, which will allow them to send quantum information using single photons and thereby connect distant nodes with entanglement.

“Arrays of individually trapped atoms have become one of the most promising platforms for quantum information processing and quantum simulation,” said Bernien. “The ability to process quantum information in the array while generating entanglement between distant arrays will unlock the long-sought after potential of quantum networks.”

With the award funding, Bernien also plans to increase participation and awareness in quantum science through education and outreach activities, which will have quantum experiments at their center.

These educational outreach efforts build on Bernien’s work as an instructor in Quantum Quickstart, a free, intensive, one-week program on the UChicago campus for Illinois high school students interested in STEM, and TeachQuantum, a program that immerses high school teachers in PME quantum research labs over the summer while developing lessons and activities to bring back to their classrooms.

Bernien also participates in the Open Quantum Initiative Undergraduate Fellowship, which provides undergraduate students from minoritized communities with research experiences working in quantum science laboratories and research groups.

Bernien is a co-founder of the South Side Science Festival, which is a free, day-long event featuring live scientific demonstrations, panel discussions, career fair and music. The inaugural event last fall drew more than 2,500 Chicagoans.

“Advancing quantum science and technology requires diverse perspectives,” said Bernien. “With these education and outreach programs, we’re looking to not only build long-term relationships with our fellow community members, but also teach quantum concepts to the next generation of scientists and engineers.”