The Quantum Initiative

For more than four decades, Rice University scientists and engineers have explored and expanded the boundaries of quantum science and created revolutionary computation, sensing and communication technologies based on the principles of quantum mechanics. In 1979, Rice chemists Rick Smalley and Bob Curl helped co-found an interdisciplinary institute, the university's first, to foster quantum research. Their discovery of buckyballs at Rice six years later played a pivotal role in the development of nanotechnology and earned them and British collaborator Harry Kroto the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996. Today, Rice's Smalley-Curl Institute still champions quantum and nano research. It was joined in 2020 by The Welch Institute, which was established with the largest single gift in Rice's history to accelerate discovery, design and manufacture of advanced materials. To build on Rice’s expertise in quantum science and to foster research, training and its application in areas such as computing, sensing and communications, the university launched in 2021 the Rice Quantum Initiative, which further supports and broadens multidisciplinary quantum research at Rice by adding 12 new faculty positions in the schools of natural sciences and engineering. Researchers with the initiative have been extremely busy, starting and continuing several exciting projects that will carry forward in 2022 and in years to come. Some of these project include:

- Quantum dots: Rice University engineers have assembled what they say may transform chemical catalysis by greatly increasing the number of transition-metal single atoms that can be placed into a carbon carrier. An international team led by chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and Yongfeng Hu of Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, detailed the work in Nature Chemistry. They proved the value of their general synthesis of high-metal-loading, single-atom catalysts by making a graphene quantum dot-enhanced nickel catalyst that, in a reaction test, showed a significant improvement in the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide as compared to a lower nickel loading catalyst. Read more about quantum dots in Rice News.

- Pristine quantum criticality: U.S. and Austrian physicists searching for evidence of quantum criticality in topological materials have found one of the most pristine examples yet observed. In an open access paper published online in Science Advances, researchers from Rice University, Johns Hopkins University, the Vienna University of Technology and the National Institute of Standards and Technology present the first experimental evidence to suggest that quantum criticality — a disordered state in which electrons waver between competing states of order — may give rise to topological phases, "protected" quantum states that are of growing interest for quantum computation. Read more about pristine quantum criticality in Rice News.

- Fault-free quantum computing: A Rice University-led study is forcing physicists to rethink superconductivity in uranium ditelluride, an A-list material in the worldwide race to create fault-tolerant quantum computers. Uranium ditelluride crystals are believed to host a rare “spin-triplet” form of superconductivity, but puzzling experimental results published in Nature have upended the leading explanation of how the state of matter could arise in the material. Neutron-scattering experiments by physicists from Rice, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of California, San Diego, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University revealed telltale signs of antiferromagnetic spin fluctuations that were coupled to superconductivity in uranium ditelluride. Spin-triplet superconductivity has not been observed in a solid-state material, but physicists have long suspected it arises from an ordered state that is ferromagnetic. The race to find spin-triplet materials has heated up in recent years due to their potential for hosting elusive quasiparticles called Majorana fermions that could be used to make error-free quantum computers. Read more about fault-free quantum computing in Rice News.