Rubicon Fellow Hannes Bernien successful in quantum research at Harvard (NWO)


(By: NWO) Hannes Bernien (34) is a postdoc at Harvard University in Boston. In 2016 he was awarded a NWO Rubicon-postdoc fellowship, for research into assembling large quantum systems atom-by-atom. His research is so successful that he already published twice about it, in Nature 2017 (first author) and Science 2016 (shared first author).

Bernien studied physics at Hannover University, Germany, with two exchange semesters at Peking University and one semester at Seoul National University. After that he did his PhD at the TU Delft in the group of Ronald Hanson. With the NWO Rubicon postdoc fellowship he went to Harvard University, to do research in the group of Mikhail Lukin.

Bernien explains that his PhD work in Delft had a lot of connections with the work of Mikhail Lukin and a postdoc in Lukin’s group seemed to be an ideal extension of his research. His work at Harvard can be thought of as developing 'quantum LEGOs' – a platform that allows you to assemble large quantum systems one particle at a time. Hannes: "In quantum science one of the big questions is, how can you assemble large systems consisting out of many well-controlled particles while preserving their quantum properties. If you could control a very large number individually and also when interacting, and you are able to scale up, then this could be a huge step towards the development of the quantum computer. At Harvard we have developed a new approach to assemble large quantum systems in a very controlled way. In order to do this, we catch single atoms with arrays of optical tweezers. We can then move these tweezers into desired positions and by that arrange the atoms exactly where we want them. We then switch on interactions between the atoms and study how the large combined quantum state evolves. All of this happens in ultra high vacuum and is thereby well isolated from the environment, which allows us to preserve the quantum properties."

Bernien and his colleague researchers receive a lot of interest from industry. Bernien: "The interest for our results is indeed huge and we are in touch with several other research groups and industrial partners. Of course, we have first filed a patent on our new approach."

In which direction will he continue his career? Bernien: "These are really exciting times for quantum science with both, fascinating research being done on the fundamental level and also very promising developments that will lead to quantum technologies. It would be fantastic to have hundreds or even thousands of well-controlled atoms and being able to study their combined quantum behavior. The optical tweezer platform that we have developed could also have large impact on quantum technologies. After my postdoc at Harvard I want to start my own research group where I will develop the necessary control and measurement tools to unlock the full potential of this approach."

About Rubicon

The Rubicon programme allows recently graduated scientists to gain experience at a foreign top institute. This is an important step up in a scientific career. More information: https://www.nwo.nl/en/research-and-results/programmes/rubicon.