Quantum Science and Engineering (QSE) is a discipline focused on understanding and exploiting the unusual behavior of particles and excitations governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. The behavior of objects we interact with on a daily basis can all be described by classical physics – we can measure the velocity and position of a baseball at any moment and reliably predict where it will be in the future. The rules of quantum mechanics are different. For example, it is impossible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a quantum particle with perfect precision. It is possible for an electron to be in a “superposition state” in which it is simultaneously in two places at once. But when we measure a system that is in a superposition state, we can only find one location as the answer. Two quantum systems can be entangled, which means that the outcome of the measurement of one system uniquely and instantaneously determines the state of the second.
Quantum mechanics has been studied since the early 1900s, and it is an extraordinarily well-tested theory. In the late 20th century, scientists realized that the unique properties of quantum mechanics provided powerful new capabilities. The most famous idea is the quantum computer, in which each quantum bit (qubit) can be in a superposition of both the zero and one state and in which conditional interactions between qubits lead to entanglement. Such a quantum computer can outperform any possible classical computer for certain types of calculations. Similarly, there are applications in fields like metrology and communication in which quantum devices can enable extraordinary improvements in sensitivity or fundamentally unbreakable encryption.
Scientists and engineers have been working to realize quantum devices since these idea first emerged, and there has been tremendous progress. The first quantum computers are in operation and we are very near (if not past) the point at which some of these quantum computers can outperform classical computers for certain problems. However, designing, building, and operating scalable and robust quantum devices is extremely challenging. What materials and conditions preserve quantum information the longest? How do we engineer machines that can reliably control qubits when all of our traditional engineering tools for classical computers cannot be used? What programming or machine language allows us to turn our desired outcomes into a sequence of qubit operations? QSE seeks to explore and answer such questions, which requires building a shared base of knowledge and vocabulary among experts from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds.
The QSE program at UD has two major components. First, we facilitate interactions and collaboration among the UD faculty working on all aspects of QSE. Second, we train a new generation of scientists and engineers with the skills and knowledge required for the “Quantum Workforce” that will carry this field into the future. We invite you to explore both our research and educational programs here!