University of Maryland gets $10.3 million grant to build advanced physics lab
Friday, January 8, 2010; 8:20 PM
The work of physicists at the University of Maryland's Joint Quantum Institute requires such precise environmental controls that some of the more sensitive experiments have to be run in the middle of the night, when there is less traffic and fewer vibrations outside.
Soon, sleepy grad students will get some relief. The university announced Friday that it had been awarded $10.3 million in stimulus funds to build an underground laboratory for advanced quantum science.
The facility, projected to open in spring 2013, will be designed with "exquisite environmental controls to eliminate even minute vibrations or changes in temperature," the university said in a news release.
Researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute, a partnership between the university and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have been working in laboratories without cutting-edge environmental controls.
"We have laser beams bouncing all over place," said Steven Rolston, co-director of the institute. "If anything moves the width of a tiny, tiny hair, that's enough to throw everything off. You don't want the building to shake when a truck drives by."
Despite the hardships, Time magazine cited the institute for producing the sixth-best invention of 2009, the successful teleportation of data between separated atoms.
The money, awarded by Gaithersburg-based NIST, is part of a $123 million package of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants toward the construction of new facilities at a dozen universities and nonprofit research institutions.
Quantum physics describes the physical world on the microscopic level. Research at the planned lab will contribute to a basic understanding of the universe, as well as to fields such as advanced computing and cryptography.
National security officials are interested, for example, in the development of a quantum computer, which would use quantum mechanics to perform computing operations, and would be theoretically capable of factoring very large numbers. Such a device could allow the user to crack sophisticated codes, such as the ones used in secure credit-card transactions.
"They want to know if you can build a quantum computer," Rolston said. "And if you can, they want to have the first one."