The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering Celebrates First Class of Quantum Ph.D. graduates


The first class of Quantum Science and Engineering Ph.D. Students graduated from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) last month, becoming one of the first cohorts in the US to earn a Ph.D. specifically dedicated to this fast-growing area.

The first three graduates of the program are members of the Avshalom Group: Paul Jerger, Erzsebet Vincent and Berk Diler Kovos.

Paul Jerger, PhD’21, studied nitrogen vacancies in diamond, one of the few quantum systems that can be studied at room temperature. He said he was drawn to quantum science by its potential impact on future technologies.

“What I find most exciting about quantum computing is that it adds a fundamentally different tool to the toolbox,” he said. “So much is happening in computing – artificial intelligence and machine learning – but in some of these cases we are pushing the limits of what modern technology can do. Quantum offers a completely new approach to processes that cannot be replicated in any other way.”

Jerger also spoke about the benefits of working with Argonne National Laboratory and other UChicago partners. Together they form a robust quantum ecosystem that has helped position the Chicagoland region as a major player in quantum information technologies.

“Working with the people of Argonne was a big part of my research,” Jerger said. “I have benefited from the diversity of people I get to work with at PME, all of whom have something unique and valuable to contribute to the graduate school experience.”

Jerger will join HRL Laboratories later this year as a scientist, working on their quantum dot research program in the materials and microsystems laboratory.

Erzsebet Vincent, PhD’21, researched the electronic properties of two-dimensional materials while studying as a PhD student at PME. Her work focused on a novel technique called “optical gating” that uses different colors of light to control the electronic properties in these materials. Vincent spoke about her experiences at PME and her motivation for joining the QSE program.

“I was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of PME,” said Vincent. “PME brings people from different scientific backgrounds together and creates an environment in which they can cultivate their work side by side. The school encourages cross-topic communication and collaboration, which opens the doors to many exciting innovations.”

Vincent plans to remain in academic research and focus on quantum biology.

“I am particularly interested in quantum sensing in biological systems, where the environmentally sensitive properties of quantum systems are used to perform extremely sensitive nanoscale measurements,” said Vincent. “I think it’s very exciting to see the unusual properties of quantum mechanics in the science of life, and that harnessing quantum sensing opens the door to new precision and a better understanding of biology. I believe that this field as a whole offers the potential for groundbreaking basic research as well as novel technologies.”

Berk Diler Kovos, PhD’21, focused his graduate research on the development of quantum bits using transition metal ions. Quantum bits, or qubits, serve as the backbone for quantum devices such as communication nodes, sensors, and computers, much like transistors work in a traditional computer. His work focused on creating and characterizing this highly scalable qubit platform. For him, quantum science was a way to better understand and shape the world we live in.

“Quantum mechanics is essentially the fundamental law of nature,” Kovos said. “Understanding them is the key to understanding the rules of the game – this universe we are in. Then it’s also very enticing and exciting to be able to use these laws to build technology and build something useful for humanity.”

Kovos, who will continue to work in the Avshalom group as a postdoc, also spoke about PME’s distinctive work environment and how it has influenced his work.

“One of the main reasons why I decided to continue as a postdoc at PME is that the people here are amazing,” he said. “There’s a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie here, this dynamic that you can go to anyone and ask questions and have a chat, and it opens up new perspectives. Everyone is always willing to help. And that’s just incredible.”

PME has emphasized quantum education and training since beginning its first doctoral program, Molecular Engineering Ph.D., in 2013, which included an extensive specialization in quantum science and engineering. In November 2021, PME then started his Ph.D. in Quantum Science and Engineering. Program that elevates this specialty and creates one of the first programs of its kind in the nation.

“As an institution, PME is dedicated to areas that will drive the next generation of technology and innovation,” said Matthew Tirrell, Dean of PME. “Quantum science and engineering has the potential to transform multiple industries, which is why we have gathered some of the best minds in the field to educate the world’s future quantum leaders. This first class of graduates is at the forefront of quantum science education. I am excited to see what they will achieve.”

“By attracting outstanding researchers and fostering interdisciplinary research, we have worked for almost a decade to create one of the strongest academic programs in the nation,” said David Awschalom, Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering and Director of Q-NEXT, a Department of Energy Quantum Information Research Center. “As the field of quantum technology grows and expands, degrees like this will be key to developing a diverse and talented workforce of quantum engineers that will shape the future of the field for years to come.”

The first cohort of QSE will be invited to participate in UChicago’s 2022 call to be held in June.

“We are very proud of the high standard of this first batch of graduates,” said Aashish Clerk, Professor of Molecular Engineering and Director of Graduate Studies for the QSE program. “We are confident that they will continue to play a key role in advancing the state of the art in quantum engineering and helping this field reach its full potential.”

— This story was first published by the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering


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