Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Scalable materials for quantum information

There is no question that the explosive spread of electronics and optoelectronic technology in the 20th century has its foundation in the growth and preparation of high quality materials - silicon with purity better than parts per billion, single crystals cut and polished to near-atomic flatness, with exquisite control of impurity concentrations; III-V compound semiconductors for high speed transistors, LEDs, and lasers; even ultrapure SiO2 for millions of km of ultralow loss optical fiber.

Any new electronics-based technology intended to supplant or supplement now-traditional electronic materials at scale is going to need a material platform that can credibly reach similar quality.  Many of the 2d materials have a long way to go in that regard.  However, there have been recent advances in a couple of specific systems targeted for particular forms of quantum information devices.  

arXiv:1810.09350 - Nelz et al., Towards wafer-scale diamond nano- and quantum technologies
It is possible to grow single-crystal diamond films on the 100 mm wafer scale, starting with Si substrates coated with iridium/yttria-stabilized zirconia.  There are dislocations and stacking faults, but it's getting there.  If the native defect density can be controlled and eliminated to a very fine level, and ion implantation can be used to create well-defined defects (NV centers and the like), that would be a big boost to hopes of wide-spread use and mass fabrication of quantum devices based on these systems.

arXiv:1810.06521 - Sabbagh et al., Wafer-scale silicon for quantum computing
Those who want to use electron spins in Si as quantum bits need to worry about whether nuclear spins from naturally abundant 29Si.  It has now been shown that it is possible to use isotopically enriched silane made from 28Si to grow epitaxial layers of material almost devoid of 29Si, and that MOS devices made from this stuff can be of high quality.  It's worth noting:  Isotope separation of different Si isotopic variants of silane by centrifuge is easier than trying the same thing with, e.g, uranium hexafluoride to enrich 235U, because the percentage mass difference is considerably higher in the Si case.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Faculty position at Rice - theoretical biological physics

Faculty position in Theoretical Biological Physics at Rice University

As part of the Vision for the Second Century (V2C2), which is focused on investments in research excellence, Rice University seeks faculty members, preferably at the assistant professor level, starting as early as July 1, 2019, in all areas of Theoretical Biological Physics. Successful candidates will lead dynamic, innovative, and independent research programs supported by external funding, and will excel in teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels, while embracing Rice’s culture of excellence and diversity.  This search will consider applicants from all science and engineering disciplines. Ideal candidates will pursue research with strong intellectual overlap with physics, chemistry, biosciences, bioengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, or other related disciplines. Applicants pursuing all styles of theory and computation integrating the physical and life sciences are encouraged to apply.

For full details and to apply, please visit  Applicants should please submit the following materials: (1) cover letter (2) curriculum vitae, (3) research statement, (4) statement of teaching philosophy, and the names and contact information for three references. Application review will commence no later than November 30, 2018 and continue until the positions are filled. Candidates must have a PhD or equivalent degree and outstanding potential in research and teaching. We particularly encourage applications from women and members of historically underrepresented groups who bring diverse cultural experiences and who are especially qualified to mentor and advise members of our diverse student population.

Rice University, located in Houston, Texas, is an Equal Opportunity Employer with commitment to diversity at all levels, and considers for employment qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, genetic information, disability, or protected veteran status.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Short items

A few interesting things I've found this past week:

  • The connection between particle spin and quantum statistics (fermions = half-integer spin, bosons = integer spin) is subtle, as I've mentioned before.  This week I happened upon a neat set of slides (pdf) by Jonathan Bain on this topic.  He looks at how we should think about why a pretty restrictive result from non-interacting relativistic quantum field theories has such profound, general implications.  He has a book on this, too.  
  • There is a new book about the impact of condensed matter physics on the world and why it's the comparatively unsung branch of the discipline.   I have a copy on the way; once I read it I'll post a review.
  • It's also worth reading about why mathematics as a discipline is viewed the way it is culturally.
  • This is a really well-written article about turbulence, and why it's hard even though it's "just \(\mathbf{F} = m\mathbf{a}\)" for little blobs of fluid.
  • Humanoid robots are getting more and more impressive.  I would really like to know the power consumption of one of those, though, given that the old ones used to have either big external power cables or on-board diesel engines.  The robot apocalypse is less scary if they have to recharge every ten minutes of operating time.
  • I always wondered if fidget spinners were good for something.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A modest proposal: Congressional Science and Technology Office, or equivalent

I was in a meeting at the beginning of the week where the topic of science and technology in policy-making came up.  One person in the meeting made an off-hand comment that one role for university practitioners could be to "educate policy-makers".  Another person in the meeting, with a lot of experience in public policy, pointed out that from the perspective of policy-makers, the previous statement often comes across as condescending and an immediate turn-off (regardless of whether policy-makers actually have expert knowledge relevant to their decisions).  

At the same time, with the seemingly ever-quickening pace of technological change, it sure seems like Congress lacks sources of information and resources for getting legislators (and perhaps more importantly their staffs) up to speed on scientific and technological issues.  These include issues of climate, election security, artificial intelligence, robots coming to take our jobs, etc.  The same could be said for the Judiciary, from the federal district level all the way up to the Supreme Court.   Wouldn't it be a good idea for at least the staffs of the federal judges to have some non-partisan way to get needed help in understanding, e.g., encryption?   The National Academies do outstanding work in their studies and reports, but I'm thinking of a non-partisan information-gathering and coaching office specifically to support Congress and perhaps the Judiciary.  The Congressional Budget Office serves a somewhat similar role in terms of supporting budgeting and appropriations.  The executive branch (nominally) has the Office of Science and Technology Policy.   I could be convinced that the Academies could launch something analogous, but it's not clear that this is a reasonable expectation.

Realistically, now is not the best time to bring this up in the US, given the level of political dysfunction and the looming financial challenges facing the government.   There used to be a congressional Office of Technology Assessment, but that was shut down ostensibly to save money in 1995.  Attempts to restart it such as Bill Foster's this past spring have failed.  Still, better to keep pushing for something to play this role, rather than simply being content with the status quo level of technical knowledge of Congress (and federal judges).  Complex scientific and technological issues are shaping the world around us, and I have to hope that decision-makers want to know more about these topics.