Chicago Quantum Exchange

June 30, 2021

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles of scientists and engineers from across the Chicago Quantum Exchange member institutions. 

Eric Chitambar is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he studies quantum information theory. He’s interested in understanding different ways that fundamental non-classical features of quantum systems, such as entanglement and coherence, can be used to enhance communication. To students thinking about a career in quantum information science, he says, “Do it!” 


Tell us about what you’re working on now. 

I currently have several projects that I’m pursuing. One of them involves studying a communication scenario in which multiple senders are trying to simultaneously send messages to a single receiver using some globally shared quantum system. This is known as multiple-access channel communication, and we are looking at the quantum-assisted version of this problem.   

In another direction, I am working to better understand a property of quantum mechanics known as measurement incompatibility. Suppose you have a sock drawer in which every sock is either red or blue, and each sock has either stripes or polka dots. If you pull a random sock out of the drawer and look at it, you simultaneously learn its color and its design; for instance, a red sock with stripes. However, quantum systems don’t always behave in this manner. There are certain properties of quantum systems that you cannot learn simultaneously, and we say they are “incompatible.” I’m studying certain technical aspects of this quantum incompatibility. Specifically, my group is trying to understand incompatibility from a resource-theoretic perspective in such a way that it can be quantified. This enables us to speak of one family of measurements as being more incompatible or more complex than another. 


U of I is home to the Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center (IQUIST). How do the university and IQUIST help advance your work?  

Since being here, I’ve benefitted most from the scientific interactions and collaborations I have with other members on campus. I am very grateful for these opportunities. IQUIST provides a number of resources that support quantum information research.  


How did you become interested in quantum research?  

I became interested in quantum information during graduate school when I attended a colloquium talk on quantum computing. It was my first exposure to the topic, and I was immediately drawn to the fact that it lies at the intersection of physics foundations and applications.  


What does the future hold for quantum technology?   

In terms of basic science, we are certainly learning a tremendous amount about material systems in the quantum regime: how they can be controlled and how they can interact with each other. Likewise, on the theory side, problems encountered in the development of quantum technology have inspired new lines of research in math and information theory. I see the future of quantum technology playing out in a series of phase shifts, as experimental breakthroughs are made in terms of scalability and error correction. In terms of computing, the most reasonable near-term applications will involve simulating certain types of quantum dynamics that prove too complex for simulation on classical computers. Outside of computing, there are great opportunities for quantum technology to enhance communication and sensing, especially in terms of security.  


Quantum technology has a workforce shortage. What would you say to a young person who is interested in studying quantum information science? 

Do it! The great thing about quantum information science is that there are many entry points. If you fancy mathematics or computer science, there are many great problems to work on. If you are an engineering, chemistry, or physics student, there are research opportunities that readily extend what you’ve learned in your quantum mechanics course. If you’re a philosopher, there are great foundational puzzles to think about, and after doing so, please come enjoy a cup of coffee with me! 


Read previous profiles of CQE members Farah Fahim and Diana Franklin