Underlying the global economy is the ability to process information quickly and cheaply. The field of quantum information processing, which harnesses the unusual features of quantum physics, offers a novel approach to rapid encoding and manipulation of information. In this project, researchers from Middlebury College, Harvard, and University of Copenhagen create and investigate quantum bits (qubits) "the fundamental building blocks of quantum computation" formed from carbon nanotubes. The team of researchers exploits the unique properties of carbon nanotubes to manipulate and interrogate the qubits, with the goal of demonstrating coherent control of the fragile quantum states. The key properties of nanotubes that make them well suited for quantum information processing are themselves newly understood, and are a forefront area of fundamental physics. Those properties include spin-orbit coupling associated with circumferential motion around the nanotube, electron-nuclear coupling and the ability to control dephasing of electron spin. The project is a good balance between future potential applications in the exciting area of quantum information, and condensed matter physics in nanoscale electronics, as fundamental physics. Students involved in the project particularly appreciate the connection between fundamental and applied components of the activity.
The subject of the project "quantum information processing" is inherently revolutionary. In addition, the project is designed to build on the exceptional strengths of liberal arts colleges and research universities in educating students and conducting research. Undergraduates perform a significant portion of the research, providing invaluable training for careers in physics. Research conducted at Harvard during the summer feeds directly into the curriculum at the PI's institution, Middlebury College, as students work in parallel on credit-bearing projects and senior theses and interact with their peers at Harvard. The aim is to foster a critical mass of students who are deeply engaged in all aspects of research, from collecting and analyzing data to presenting results, and who have the training and expertise necessary to excel in physics.