When Sara Mouradian, Ph.D., stumbled across the field of experimental applied physics, she was immediately intrigued with the challenge and variety it offered. A career that allowed her to conduct hands-on experiments and contribute to impactful research felt like the perfect fit for Mouradian, who went on to study electrical engineering and computer sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She continued to fall more and more in love with experimental applied physics, particularly with its research and potential applications.
“Every day there’s a new puzzle to solve,” said Mouradian. “I’m motivated by the excitement of tackling and solving interesting problems.”
Currently, as part of the Intelligence Community (IC) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program, Mouradian, is investigating problems related to quantum engineering research.
The IC Postdoc Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). The program offers scientists and engineers from a wide variety of disciplines unique opportunities to conduct research relevant to the Intelligence Community. For her appointment, Mouradian is stationed with the Trapped Ion Group in the Physics Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Under the guidance of her mentor, Professor Hartmut Haeffner, Mouradian is building a deployable trapped-ion quantum sensor.
Large engineered quantum systems could improve sensing, communication and computing systems. To be useful, engineered quantum systems will have to increase in size and complexity by orders of magnitude. However, as engineered quantum systems grow, they become more difficult to control, and more prone to interactions with the environment—leading to decoherence. Mouradian’s research focuses on increasing the scale of engineered quantum systems. She is particularly interested in the complex control architectures needed to build, maintain, and control these quantum systems in a stable and noise-free manner.
“Specifically, I am building an integrated photonic system for the routing of the lasers needed for state preparation and control of the ions,” explained Mouradian.
“Although quantum engineering is in its infancy, it promises exponential speedups for many computational tasks that are intractable on classical machines. My research focuses on scaling engineered quantum systems to the size necessary to demonstrate the advantage of quantum information processing.”
According to Mouradian, sensing with trapped ions provides unprecedented sensitivity to magnetic, electric, and light fields as well as electronic signals. However, current trapped ion quantum sensors are bulky, unstable and unsuitable to operation outside of a controlled laboratory environment. Building a deployable quantum sensor will enable high-sensitivity measurements in the field, which could provide researchers with important information about our environment.
“Beyond sensing, the work done during my fellowship can also be applied to quantum information processing,” Mouradian added. “Just as classical computing changed society in unanticipated ways, the full impact of QIP is not yet known, but there are many promising applications.”
A typical day for Mouradian entails cycling between conducting sensing experiments, performing fabrication in the clean room and studying the theory questions surrounding sensing. Most of her time is spent solving optical, electrical or mechanical engineering challenges she encounters during experiments, which is helping her develop skills valuable to her future career.
“I have learned how to build and operate a trapped-ion system and I’ve gotten more comfortable with atomic physics,” said Mouradian. “I have also been able to dig into what technological limitations are holding back scaling QIP with trapped ions. In the future, I plan to continue research on these technological challenges.”
In addition to learning new skills and gaining practical experience, Mouradian was also able to attend several academic conferences. In October 2020, she gave a presentation of her research titled “Engineering Solutions to Scale Quantum Information Processing” to the Optical Society’s (OSA) Quantum Science and Technology Technical Group.
“I’ve enjoyed my experience immensely, and I definitely recommend the IC Postdoc Program,” said Mouradian. “It introduced me to a great network of researchers and gave me the freedom to work on an exciting research problem.”
When her fellowship concludes, Mouradian plans to continue research in scalable trapped-ion QIP architectures and mentor the next generation of engineers.
The IC Postdoc Research Fellowship Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.