“The idea is to make structures where quantum mechanics shows up in either electronic or optical signatures,” says Ashoori, who will serve as co-principal investigator in the effort to develop a new class of quantum electronic devices and systems that will transform signal processing and computation.
The team will work with graphene, a one-atom thick form of carbon; topological insulators, a class of materials on which electrons move, on the surface, in the directions of their individual electronic spins; and nitrogen vacancy centers in diamond, which can store quantum information and be readily probed optically.
MIT will receive about $1 million a year, for five years. The MIT award will be managed by the Materials Processing Center.
“Ultimately, we would like to integrate our knowledge from these three basic areas into projects that develop on all three ideas,” Ashoori says. “There are possibilities for radically different kinds of electronics with these materials. Topological insulators are a newer field where it may be possible to implement strategies for quantum computing and to do some really way out things.”
Graphene could potentially replace silicon as the material for future computer processors.
The project’s principal investigator is Robert M. Westervelt, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Applied Physics and of Physics at Harvard. Besides Ashoori, other co-principal investigators are Gary L. Harris, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Howard University; and Carol Lynn Alpert, director of strategic projects at the Museum of Science in Boston.
Other MIT researchers involved in the project include Department of Physics faculty Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, Nuh Gedik, Liang Fu, Leonid S. Levitov and Jagadeesh Moodera (senior scientist); Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty Tomas Palacios and Jing Kong; and mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd.
“What I like about our group from MIT is it’s very tight, in that people have considerable overlap in interests,” Ashoori says. “Even within MIT, it’s a mechanism for bringing us together and new collaborations frequently just happen this way when you are brought together at regular events that are part of a center like this. It just makes things happen, and it also gives people an incentive to make sure that things happen.”
The researchers’ proposal to NSF was one of three selected from a national competition that started with more than 250 pre-proposals. The project starts Oct. 1.
The project, based at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) also includes a network of four-year colleges, including Wellesley College, Gallaudet University, Olin College and Mount Holyoke College; and six community colleges, including Bunker Hill Community College. The educational component will focus on preparing these students for graduate school.
Rotating seminars will bring students and faculty from the different schools together. “The idea is to reach out to a pretty broad community that stretches us a bit beyond what we normally do in our day-to-day lives,” Ashoori says.
There will also be corporate partnerships with BASF Corp. on graphene research, and with Element Six Ltd. and Epitaxial Technologies on diamond growth research.