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An illustration of the quantum limited amplifier
August 16, 2016

Professor Matthew Bell receives NSF grant


  • Boston

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $344,652 grant to Assistant Professor of Engineering Matthew Bell to further his research into quantum limited amplifiers.

This technology is used to boost very faint signals, and separate signal from noise. It is especially useful for amplifying weak signals present inside prototype quantum computers to read information stored in “quantum bits.”

These amplifiers are also useful to astronomers studying the origins of the universe and dark matter. This technology helps astronomers detect the faint light emitted from celestial objects billions of years ago. Bell’s innovation is to create a broadband version of a quantum limited amplifier. That means that while the amplifier improves the signal-to-noise ratio, it also picks up a broad range of frequencies.

Bell’s grant also includes support for outreach activities in K-12 schools, designed to teach young people about nanoscience. Bell will bring a mobile atomic force microscope into classrooms and show the students how scientists use technology to understand the tiniest structures in nature. Bell says the public has a newfound interest in this topic, citing recent sci-fi movies like Terminator: Genisys as examples.

“They’re referring to ‘quantum’ and ‘nano,’” said Bell, “But we can bring some of this technology into the classroom, and allow students firsthand the opportunity to explore this world the way scientists do.”

Bell is working on the leading edge of technology that is in its infancy. He says he’s excited to pass on knowledge to the next generation of scientists and engineers who will be the ones to solve the hard problems and see quantum computers reach their full potential.

“This technology is where the transistor was in the 1950’s. Scientists and engineers of that time could not have imagined how the transistor revolutionized computing as we know it today,” said Bell. “Quantum computers may not yet be realized for another 20 to 30 years, but the potential of this technology has already spurred early R&D investments from industry giants such as Google and IBM.”