Earlier this month, a group of Yale researchers received a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the memory components of quantum computers. The research team, led by professor of electrical engineering Hong Tang, works out of Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Yale Quantum Institute.

Over the past 70 years, the field of computing has developed rapidly, with improved devices being released constantly.

But the rapid growth is now reaching a plateau — and this is where quantum information science comes in. A goal of this fledgling field is to make computers that leverage the powers of quantum physics, making a device stronger than current conventions allow. Now, many Yale researchers are intensifying their focus on the possibilities that quantum information science offers to bring quantum computing closer to reality.

“The grant will support a number of graduate students working on light-spin interactions,” Tang said.

Light-spin interactions refer to the properties that light has on the smallest level, which are necessary to build the microscopic circuits of a quantum computer.

This grant, intended to fund three years of research, is just one part of the $218 million that the Department of Energy fund has allocated to quantum information science research. The rest of this fund is spread across 27 other national universities and laboratories. The Yale group specifically will focus on building memory qubits, which are the smallest computational unit used to store memory in a different way than do current computers.

Physics professor Steven Girvin, another member of the research group, described himself as the theoretician of the project. While Tang’s lab studies the mechanics of quantum circuits, Girvin’s lab will provide insight into the underlying challenges associated with building a quantum computer, he said.

One such challenge, Girvin explained, is decoherence, a process by which the metal atoms in memory components of quantum computers lose the information they hold.

“My role will be to help understand the sources of the decoherence that ultimately limits the ability of atoms to act as a quantum memory,” he said.

Girvin also added that he will work with applied physics professor Liang Jiang, another member of the Yale group who also studies the theory behind quantum information science, to hire a postdoctoral associate to help elucidate the phenomenon of decoherence.

Therefore, according to the researchers, the work arising from this grant will be interdisciplinary — a balance of the underlying theory and the plausible mechanics of the new field of quantum information science.

The Yale Quantum Institute was established in 2015.

Jessica Pevner | jessica.pevner@yale.edu