Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Mines Nanoscience and Nanoengineering Makes a Quantum Leap Joining Arkansas-Montana Quantum Foundry

Nanoscience and nanoengineering graduate students align a laser in the Nanophotonics Laboratory at South Dakota Mines. Mines faculty are joining an Arkansas-Montana led center for quantum materials, providing nanophotonic imaging and nonlinear optics capabilities to the research collaboration.

Quantum computing and secure quantum communications are potentially disruptive “industries of the future,” promising computers 100 million times faster than current technology and communications guaranteed to be secure. To accelerate the development of these technologies, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a cohort of “quantum foundries” with the aim of developing the materials and workforce needed to drive this burgeoning industry.

The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy has announced that a team of South Dakota Mines researchers in the Department of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering are joining the “MonArk Quantum Foundry.” The NSF-funded center is focused on development of quantum materials and co-managed by the University of Arkansas and Montana State University. The Mines researchers bring expertise in nonlinear optics and nanophotonics, the science of light matter interactions on extremely small length scales and ultrafast timescales. 

“This exciting collaboration is one example of many that highlight Mines’ leading role in high-tech research and education in South Dakota,” says President Jim Rankin. The cutting-edge work done in this collaboration will fill our ongoing need for high-tech workers and continue to spin off new businesses right here in the state.”

Robert Anderson, assistant professor of nanoscience and nanoengineering at Mines, will lead the university’s effort. “We are excited to apply the novel imaging methods developed at Mines to the nanomaterials developed by the MonArk Quantum Foundry,” says Anderson. “Some of the most promising quantum computing and communications technologies are based on controlling the light-matter interaction with nanomaterials, so there’s a natural synergy with our expertise and capabilities.”

Nonlinear Optics

Ultrafast lasers in the Nanophotonics Laboratory at Mines produce short, intense bursts of light, with instantaneous powers in the megawatt range (enough power to run 3,000 homes) but lasting only a millionth of a billionth of a second (a femtosecond). So much energy focused to a small region of space and for such a short period of time causes materials to exhibit a nonlinear response; a startling example is when red light transforms to blue light instantaneously, called “frequency doubling.” This and other nonlinear effects in nanomaterials are the primary investigations to be explored during the project.

One of the key steps in quantum computing and quantum communications is generating and detecting single photons. Nanomaterials and devices with properties optimized for this are needed. One fast and efficient way of characterizing these materials is with ultrafast lasers and microscopes, which can deliver short pulses of photons to a material or device precisely where and when they are needed. Examining the nonlinear properties of nanomaterials with ultrafast lasers is a well-established capability in the Nanophotonics Lab at Mines, and this will be the main focus of the team’s effort.

Quantum Communications Industry

Supporting the MonArk-South Dakota collaboration is Mines industry collaborator Qubitekk, a quantum communications company based in San Diego County, Calif. The company markets secure quantum encrypted communications networks, capable of transmitting information guaranteed to be secure based on the principles of quantum cryptography. Joining the MonArk Quantum Foundry will facilitate collaboration with Qubitekk by examining relevant technologies and training students for future careers in quantum computing and communications.

Quantum Workforce

Besides the research opportunities supported by this project, which will engage graduate and undergraduate researchers, Mines nanoscience and nanoengineering faculty provide courses training students in photonics, the science of generating, measuring, and controlling “photons," the smallest unit of light energy. “The optics and photonics industries are growing industries,” says Anderson. “This new collaboration focusing on nanophotonics and nanomaterials adds relevance and expanded opportunities in an emerging quantum workforce.”

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About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,418 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $68,685. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, Mike.Ray@sdsmt.edu

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