Helping build the quantum future

Swathi Chandrika first fell in love with physics because of how eloquently the field could describe the fundamentals of the natural world. As she progressed through her education, she realized that physics could also allow her to build new things.

“I became really excited by this idea that I could use physics to figure out how to make entirely new technologies,” Chandrika said.

After completing an undergraduate degree in engineering and applied physics, Chandrika enrolled in the Quantum Science and Engineering PhD program at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), among the first programs of its kind in the nation. She wanted more exposure to quantum science and knew that researchers at PME were on the forefront of quantum research, testing new quantum materials, devices, protocols, and algorithms through the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

Now, a year and a half into her graduate degree, Chandrika is investigating quantum transduction—the process of converting quantum signals from one form of energy to another—and developing new methods to transmit quantum information across long distances through existing fiber optic infrastructure.

Converting wavelengths of light

Quantum computers use the laws of quantum mechanics to process and store data in a fundamentally different—and more powerful—way from today’s classical computers. For quantum computers to have practical applications at the same scale as today’s classical computers, however, researchers must design ways to read out their quantum properties and transmit that information over long distances. Today, that aspect of quantum networking is still challenging.

Under the mentorship of David Awschalom, Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering, Chandrika is building a device that could one day transmit the output from a quantum computer across a large-scale quantum network based on fiber optic infrastructure that has already been built.

“The quantum system I’m working with has cool properties that we want to harness but the light that it outputs isn’t at the ideal wavelength,” said Chandrika. “My project ideally will take the signal from this system and convert it to a wavelength that can travel incredibly long distances.”

Strengthened by collaboration

PME is the perfect spot to be building this kind of technology, Chandrika said, because of the plethora of experts in all areas that she can collaborate with.

“We’re surrounded by amazing quantum faculty and it’s really easy to reach out to them and start collaborations,” she said. “Because the faculty are so well-regarded and active in their field, it’s also easy to start collaborations outside of the university as well.”

Chandrika’s current project, for instance, is being conducted with help from researchers at Stanford and Yale, and some of the materials she uses are processed at the National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology in Japan. Moving forward, Awschalom is also helping her launch collaborations with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory. The interdisciplinary research required for quantum engineering, Chandrika pointed out, can’t be conducted by one person alone.

Chandrika isn’t yet sure whether she wants to work in industry or academia in the future. For now, she’s glad she’s found a collegial, innovative space at PME to study physics and help build the quantum future.