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  • Dan Powers

CU Boulder Awarded $20M by NSF for a new Nanoscale Fabrication Facility

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a nearly $20 million award that will support the construction of a nanoscale fabrication facility at the University of Colorado Boulder to accelerate the co-design and development of atomic-photonic quantum devices, positioning the U.S. as a global leader in quantum science and engineering.

This means researchers at CU Boulder will soon begin work on what they’re calling the “quantum machine shop” of the 21st century. In this facility, Colorado researchers and quantum specialists from around the country will be able to design and build incredibly small devices that tap into the world of atoms and photons—the tiny packets of energy that make up light. (Read more from CU Boulder.)

From left to right, Aju Jugessur, Juliet Gopinath, Scott Diddams and Cindy Regal, who will lead the realization of a new facility at CU Boulder for making incredibly small devices. (Credit: Patrick Campbell/CU Boulder)

The new NSF National Quantum Nanofab (NQN) will enable quantum device fabrication, characterization, and packaging capabilities that are essential to advancing applications ranging from quantum computers and networks to atomic clocks, and advanced quantum sensors. Funded as part of NSF's Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure 1 (Mid-scale RI-1) program, NQN will be an open-access national facility for academic, government and industrial users.

"U.S. researchers need cutting-edge tools to stay at the forefront of science and technology," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said. "By strategically investing in infrastructure like NSF's National Quantum Nanofab, we are strengthening opportunities for all Americans and positioning the U.S. as a global leader in quantum science and technology."

Principal Investigator Scott Diddams, professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, alongside a team of physicists and engineers, will lead the realization of this maker space. Diddams said it will help transform discoveries from the quantum world into technologies and devices that can have greater impact on society, and shore up a rapidly growing sector of Colorado’s economy.

The NQN facility will feature cutting-edge instrumentation that will advance the design, fabrication, process development, and heterogeneous integration challenges encountered with quantum devices constructed from neutral atoms and ions that are interfaced and addressed with optical photons, in environments that may include high vacuum and cryogenic temperatures. Currently, quantum systems rely on bulk optics that require complex controls, and the new technologies enabled by this facility will allow integrated quantum systems that are accessible to more researchers and accelerate translation to wider use.

In addition, the NQN will serve as an inclusive educational hub for diverse student populations and workforce development initiatives. Training a diverse workforce engaged in the design and implementation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics research infrastructure is a key component of the Mid-scale RI-1 program.

The Mid-scale RI program provides an agile, agency wide process to fund experimental research capabilities in the mid-scale range between Major Research Instrumentation programs and Major Multi-user Facilities. This level of funding — between $4 million and up to but not including $20 million for Mid-scale RI-1 and between $20 million and $100 million for the Mid-scale Research Infrastructure 2 program — can support any combination of facilities, equipment, instrumentation, or computational hardware or software, and the necessary human capital in support of the same.

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