ORNL Faculty Research Profile: Dmitry Uskov
Physics professor advances research on quantum computers during summer break
At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dr. Dmitry Uskov performed research on quantum computing as part of a National Science Foundation grant to transition from conceptual development of quantum computing to the building of a physical device.
Dmitry Uskov, Ph.D. in physics, first visited the U.S. in 1995. At that time, he was a young theoretician at the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, a prominent multidisciplinary research center. During his trip, he visited the Atomic Theory Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Almost two decades later, he came back.
“ORNL will always be a special place for me,” said Uskov, a recent participant in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Visiting Faculty Program (VFP) administered by ORAU.
The DOE VFP is sponsored and managed by the DOE Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists in collaboration with DOE national laboratories. Through 10-week summer appointments, faculty members from institutions historically underrepresented in the research community engage in research projects under the guidance of laboratory staff scientists and engineers.
Uskov, an assistant professor of physics at Brescia University in Kentucky, used his summer break to conduct research on quantum computing alongside his mentor, Dr. Pavel Lougovski. Pavel is a research scientist in ORNL’s Quantum Information Science Group. He and Uskov collaborated to help build a photonic quantum computer, which, unlike the common digital computer, uses quantum objects like photons, atoms, ions, and molecules to perform digital processing tasks.
Quantum computers have long been considered by scientists as a quicker, more powerful alternative to classical computers and were first theorized in 1981 by physicists like Richard Feynman and David Deutsch.
Fully functional quantum computers could, for example, simulate extraordinarily complex chemical reactions or find a key to decoding encrypted communication. At its core, quantum computing grants researchers limitless access to the theoretical world.
Scientists are working to make quantum computing a commercial reality, but the task is costly and challenging, due in large part to its intangible nature.
“Quantum mechanics makes completely no sense not only to students, but also to professors teaching quantum mechanics,” Uskov said in jest, although the sentiment is true. “When it comes to the quantum world we are common-sense ‘blind.’ The only way we can ‘see’ things in quantum worlds is through mathematics.”
Uskov’s research at the lab was part of a National Science Foundation grant awarded in 2010. The research, to which Uskov serves as a co-principal investigator, was preliminarily published in 2014 under the title “Optimal Fusion Transformations for Linear Optical Cluster State Generation.” It involves exploiting the behavior of photons—excitations of electromagnetic energy—to optimize computational technologies.
Uskov spent his days writing computer codes, solving equations and writing and reading research papers. By the end of the 10 weeks, he and Lougovski discovered a good algorithm for creating quantum entanglement, a physical phenomenon that serves as a gateway to simultaneous processing tasks.
The VFP program provided Uskov, originally an atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) theoretical physicist, the unique opportunity to advance in an area of quantum computing, which he has studied since 2002. One day, he and his collaborators just might succeed in building a fully operational quantum computer, an accomplishment that would revolutionize scientist’s ability to understand the world we live in.
In the mean time, though, he hopes to achieve tenure at his university. The VFP program helped advance this goal through its intensive, independent structure.
“I very much liked that there were practically no distractions from doing research during my stay at ORNL. The amount of time spent writing reports was very reasonable,” he said. “The experience was great and provided a nice opportunity for collaboration. I would recommend it to others.”