The WashU Physics Department is searching for undergraduates interested in working on projects aimed at atomically-thin materials and topological quantum computation.
What exactly is topological quantum computation? The Physics Department is trying to find out! This is an experimental undertaking; Professor Henriksen needs students who work well with their hands, or want to learn how. No prior physics knowledge needed, but students do have to enjoy laboring to pursue intriguing ideas that may turn out to not work, or not actually exist ... but, we might revolutionize computing. It'll be a fun project either way.
What the lab does day-to-day: we pull apart layered materials with scotch tape until we have single- or few-atom-thick sheets, less than a hair's width in extent, that we pick up and stack into arbitrary, quasi-three-dimensional heterostrutures whose properties and physical behavior can be more or less designed and even altered on the fly. If topological quantum computation exists, it stands a good chance of being found in systems like these made by the team. We hand solders pure gold wires 1/4 the width of a hair to nanometer-thick gold pads that are patterned into micron-wide electronic connections to the samples. Measurements are made via phase-locked loops at temperatures of -450 degrees F, in magnetic fields 300,000 times the earth's background field, applying femtowatts of power and making measurements on timescales from picoseconds to months. The lab shines infrared light and see what gets absorbed, and we make electrons surf on micro-waves.
Undergraduates publish papers with the lab, including as first authors: see Physical Review X vol. 10, p. 041006, published in 2020 with lead author Jordan Pack '19 and contributing author Jeff Ahlers '21. Undergraduates give talks on our work every year at the American Physical Society March Meeting, the largest gathering of physicists working on quantum information and materials.
Prerequisites include: curiosity, independence, enjoyment of problem solving, comfort with failure–Professor Henriksen and his lab recommend having some of these qualities, or a desire to nurture them.