Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Physicist Lands NSF Grant

Doug Hensley

July 28, 2023

Myoung-Hwan Kim

Myoung-Hwan Kim’s research will look to resolve quantum computing challenges.

Myoung-Hwan Kim, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas Tech University, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant in the field of materials research (DMR) related to quantum information science (QIS).

An emerging field of research, QIS involves studying the transmission of information through quantum mechanics principles. Kim's research will examine the influence of magnetism and topology on quantum particles delivering information. Kin's award is one of two Texas Tech recently received from the NSF for QIS research. The other was awarded to Lu Wei, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Sciences.

Kim’s group developed a new broadband polarimetric infrared microscope to probe the chiral anomaly of quantum particles.
Kim's group developed a new broadband polarimetric infrared microscope to probe the chiral anomaly of quantum particles.

“When a magnetic field is applied, the particles' spin aligns with the field's direction. However, when both an electric and a magnetic field are present, charged particles move in a direction parallel to the electric field but perpendicular to the magnetic field. As a result, the spin direction of the particles remains perpendicular to their direction of motion,” Kim said. 

“But some quantum particles in a solid react differently. The spin direction determines where the particle moves so the quantum particles only move when both electric and magnetic fields are aligned in the same direction. This we call a quantum anomaly that could be the foundation for a new qubit.”

The NSF award acknowledges the vital work Texas Tech researchers are doing in this area, said Joseph A. Heppert, vice president for research & innovation.

“Congratulations to Dr. Kim for receiving this new award from the National Science Foundation,” he said. “Quantum science is a high-priority research area for the nation. Innovations in quantum technology are expected to lead to revolutions in many areas of technology, including computer science and telecommunications. Texas Tech is extremely proud of Dr. Kim for his contributions to this critical and rapidly developing research field.”

Animation demonstrates how the polarimetry experiment works for quantum particles.

Kim's work is in response to one of the challenges facing current quantum computers, a concept known as quantum decoherence, which occurs when information is lost during a computational process or information transport. Current quantum computers attempt to resolve decoherence by keeping qubits (quantum bits) from their surroundings, but as the qubit numbers increase, this becomes more difficult. 

As a result, scientists are seeking “topological qubits” that protect against decoherence because of their unique makeup, which could ultimately resolve the information loss issue. Two promising avenues of research have developed to try and address the problem.

Two graduate students, Zachary Brown and Imtiaz Ahmad, are conducting a magneto-optic experiment in Kim’s laboratory.
Two graduate students, Zachary Brown and Imtiaz Ahmad, are conducting a magneto-optic experiment in Kim's laboratory.

The first involves particles known as Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticles, but this possibility has not gained significant traction yet. The second, research path involves Weyl fermions, which have shown more promise and where Kim is focusing his work during the life of the two-year NSF grant.

“I am very pleased that two early-career faculty members at Texas Tech have successfully obtained NSF grants in the area of quantum information science research,” said Sung-Won Lee, department chair. “QIS is a new cross-disciplinary field of research, and a variety of research in this area has taken place on the Texas Tech campus since 2019.”

The NSF grant will support Kim's research, which aims to gain a fundamental understanding of quantum anomalies as well as their relationship with topology and the magnetic environment surrounding Weyl fermions. Kim's lab at Texas Tech includes an advanced magneto-optical setup that was developed on campus. The hope is Kim's work will provide new insights into controlling the functionality of Weyl fermions through optical, electrical and magnetic means.

“The quantum anomalies can be controlled,” Kim said. “I want to study how the topology and the magnetic field influence the quantum particles' motion and see how we control the quantum information flow using polarized light.”