Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Research grant awarded to UT physics professor

Alex Luevano
Lai Keji stands in his lab in the Physics, Math, and Astronomy Building on Aug. 28, 2023.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $1.25 million to 21 experimental physicists at the end of August, including associate physics professor Keji Lai.

The Experimental Physics Investigators Initiative grant, awarded through the foundation, aims to support researchers with innovative ideas who lack the funding to pursue research, Lai said. He plans to use the funding to study the properties of sound and how it can be imaged to further researchers’ understanding of advanced technology. 

“The (grant) funds faculty in the middle of their careers to explore new and creative research ideas that might be too speculative to be funded through more traditional mechanisms,” said Andreas Matouschek, associate dean for research and facilities at the College of Natural Sciences, in a written response.

Lai’s proposal details a device that can image acoustic waves being transmitted between acoustic devices, like speakers and microphones in phones, under ultra-low temperatures, contributing to the field of quantum computing, which is a major branch of quantum information science.

“Sound doesn’t have to propagate in air,” Lai said. “It can propagate in liquid. It can propagate in solids. It’s this particular property of sound that propagates in solid where we usually don’t call it sound, we call it acoustic waves. That kind of property has already been very well explored by electrical engineers … In fact, the cell phones that you and I are using these days have a lot of (acoustic) devices that are based on acoustic waves.”

The research has implications for the transportation of large amounts of data. Computers used in daily life have classical bits, which are semiconductor chips that use zeroes and ones to store data, said Lai.  

“In quantum computation, those quantum bits have a much larger space to store information,” Lai said. “In fact, people are considering using acoustic waves to communicate using the acoustic wave to transport those quantities from one side to another.”

The proposed device would help researchers better understand the process of quantum, and as a result, improve its efficiency, Lai said. 

“This tool potentially will provide some kind of way to go down to the inner workings of these chips and image or visualize how these cards are actually going inside the computer,” Lai said. “This will provide a way to help us: number one, understand the operation of quantum computation, (and) number two, help to debug and (know) when something does not go right.”

The Strategic Research Initiatives at CNS assisted Lai with his proposal to the Moore Foundation. The initiative is now working with Lai to provide him with the necessary facilities to complete his project, said Emily Cole, director of strategic research initiatives for CNS.

“This award allows Dr. Lai to pursue his most creative, curiosity-driven ideas, which could lead to the next breakthrough in quantum computing,” Cole said in a written response. “We want to see our researchers win similar awards and always encourage our faculty to pursue these opportunities.”

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About the Contributors
Amirtha Jayakumaran, General News Reporter
Amirtha is a neuroscience freshman from Austin, Texas. Currently, she works as a general news reporter. In her free time, she loves to stay in, read, and watch period films.
Alex Luevano, Associate Photo Editor
Alex is a four year RTF major from San Antonio, TX. He is currently an Associate Photo Editor at the Texan.