W.M. Keck Foundation Gives Colorado State University $1.1 Million for Quantum Computer-Related Research

Colorado State University has been awarded a prestigious $1.1 million gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation to support a quantum computer-oriented research program that holds the potential to develop a key step that could make possible the development of a large-scale quantum computer.

The Keck Foundation gift will enable research conducted within CSU’s Department of Physics to work to develop a laser cooled single-atom-on-demand source for silicon quantum computers. The project will yield an essential tool for researchers to precisely place atoms within nanometers of a designated target and overcome a critical roadblock in nano-fabrication.

A quantum computer would have the ability to process and carry out massive parallel computation at much faster speeds than traditional computers. Quantum computing holds great promise for Internet security and likely will have a widespread impact in the future of nano-electronics.

"This research project will make possible important advances in nano-fabrication," said CSU President Larry Edward Penley. "The opportunity enabled by the W.M. Keck Foundation, through its support of research at Colorado State University, will move us closer creating a large-scale and functional quantum computer. Through this research program, a more secure Internet and vast advances in computing are a step closer to realization."

The primary goal of the research program is to demonstrate laser cooling and trapping of a single silicon atom.  Then, on demand, researchers will ionize the atom and deliver it to the desired qubit location with nanometer accuracy, said Siu Au Lee, a professor of physics at CSU and principal investigator for the program. Although phosphorous ions are needed for quantum computing, the researchers will use silicon atoms that will decay into phosphorous ions.  

Laser-cooling of atoms is needed in order for researchers to successfully place the ion where it is needed, said William Fairbank, a CSU physics professor and co-principal investigator for the program.

"If you know where an atom is when you start, you will be able to know where it ends up," Fairbank said. "The key is to have the atom held in a specific place to begin with, and then you can place it where you want it with atom precision."

Said College of Natural Sciences Dean Rick Miranda: "The work of Dr. Lee and Dr. Fairbank could be a significant breakthrough in the field of quantum computing. This is an exciting opportunity for the University and our college to contribute to an interdisciplinary field at the frontier of basic physics, nanotechnology, and computer science."

The W.M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations. Established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, the founder of The Superior Oil Company, the Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on the areas of medical research, science and engineering. More information about the W.M. Keck Foundation is available online at www.wmkeck.org.