Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles of scientists and engineers from across the Chicago Quantum Exchange member institutions.
Farah Fahim is the deputy head of quantum science at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. For much of her career, she developed low-noise, high-speed reconfigurable pixel detectors for high-energy physics and photon science. She recently pivoted to control and readout electronics for quantum systems, and says, “The future is bright.”
What are you working on at Fermilab?
Cryogenic electronics. My general area of research is microelectronics, previously for high-energy physics and now for quantum. I’m trying to develop control and readout cryoelectronics for ion traps. An ion trap is a type of qubit, which requires electronics that could read out the state of the qubit. These electronics are really cold – around 4 Kelvin – so that we can enable scalable cryogenic ion trapping. Essentially, developing these cryoelectronics is a path toward scaling the number of qubits you can put into a device. This scaling ultimately determines the types of simulations that can be performed.
Fermilab has traditionally been known for high-energy physics experiments. How does the lab help advance your work in quantum?
At Fermilab, we design robust electronics that last for a long time in extreme environments, like in particle physics experiments. We’re now bringing that expertise to quantum. I believe there is a design solution to be found to make quantum computing feasible. Fermilab recently created the Fermi Quantum Institute, which allows us to focus on how we can use quantum technologies for high-energy physics. It’s not just about computing – ion traps can also be used for quantum sensing. They could make good dark matter sensors, for example.
How did you become interested in quantum research?
It’s cool! Quantum seems to be at the point where everybody is coming together – industry and academia. I see a place for national labs, too. There are all these technologies that have been developed for other market segments that could have a profound influence on how we can create a quantum computer with 100 to 1,000 qubits.
What does the future hold for quantum technology?
If people ask how it contributes to the economy, I say that the pursuit of knowledge often leads to innovation. The world wide web was created so physicists could communicate with each other. When people work toward a common goal, and are driven by curiosity, it can lead to inventions for daily use. Quantum computing is similar. We won’t have quantum computers replacing laptops for perhaps 20 years, but quantum technologies will ultimately affect everybody’s daily lives.
Quantum technology has a workforce shortage. What would you say to a young person who is interested in studying quantum information science?
The future is bright – there is definitely a growing job market. There are a lot of different ways you can study quantum information science. That said, I’m still old-school. I think it’s good to have a broad undergraduate degree and then specialize in quantum. You need to have a big-picture view of a problem and not just look at it in the same way that everyone else has looked at it.