National Science Foundation Awards Grant to Andrew Dawes, Physics

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded physics assistant professor Andrew Dawes, PhD, a three-year grant to better understand the quantum state of multimode light before and after storage in an atomic vapor.

Funding from the NSF Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) Award will provide equipment, supplies and stipends for two undergraduate researchers.

Dawes and the university received $91,885 for the first year of his initiative, "Multimode Quantum State Tomography of Stored Photons." Additional funding is expected in each of the following two years.

Because information carried by a light beam can be stored in an atomic cloud or vapor, Dawes' work may be of considerable value in developing quantum memory processes for advanced computing.

He noted that quantum information can be transferred from a beam of light to a cloud of atoms and controllably released at a later time. This process, he said, forms the basis of many important quantum memory devices that are fundamental to the future of quantum information science, quantum computing and quantum communication.

Dawes' techniques include "array detection" for quantum state reconstruction of experimental stored-light systems. The result is a more complete understanding of the quantum state of light before and after storage that reveals fundamental properties of the quantum memory process.

"We use atomic vapor — a gas made of one type of atom — as a test bed to develop quantum memory and light-storage techniques that can later be used to build systems out of more robust solid-state materials," Dawes said.

"It's like working on the prototype of a vacuum tube. In the future it will be replaced with something more compact and efficient, just as transistors replaced vacuum tubes."

In addition to the immediate advances in the research arena, Dawes said the program will also train undergraduates and inspire them to consider careers in science.

"The undergraduate researchers will participate in every step of the project and gain experience with experiment design, data collection, analysis and dissemination," Dawes said.

"The technical skills acquired during this experience, combined with attentive mentoring in a supportive research community, create the best form of scientific incubator to prepare students for successful science careers."

Dawes added that the students will present their findings at regional and national conferences, as well as participate in a new five-school consortium of atomic, molecular and optical physics research groups in the Pacific Northwest. 

Monday, Sept. 10, 2012