No. 9, Winter 2021
Director's Message:

Happy 2021!

I hope you had a restful winter break with a good change in schedule from your typical workday!

As much as many of us would like to forget 2020, with discussions of feeling like how our work seems trivialized compared to the urgency of many social and political events, there were many achievements at PME to note. We have a short and fun little 2020 recap video below to celebrate many overshadowed milestones and to help look forward to 2021. Remember, we are playing the long game of building knowledge of systems, education of thought leaders, and building impactful partnerships and ecosystems.

As the anxiety and uncertainty in the near future (hopefully!) start to decline, you should note that we have big plans for 2021!

The PME will be 10 years old with events to celebrate this milestone.
Late summer - a multi-day Industry-Alumni event. Please mark your calendars!

While we hope to have in-person events, and with the comfort level with traveling is still uncertain, we will have backup plans for hybrid and remote operations in place should they be necessary. Please stay tuned for details on this.

In 2019, we piloted the FORUM to get a feel for how industry focused events might run. This year we are planning more comprehensive event with a mix of high level and detailed discussions on a variety of scientific, social and business-related topics. The general plan is to have one theme per day and social activities to facilitate networking and talent recruitment. More details on this to come in the next MEdIAN.

As you may have read, Quantum Engineering is particularly hot as industry and academia come together in the Chicago Quantum Exchange to be at the forefront of leveraging this critical technology, and roadmap future applications. Because talent is being snapped up as fast as we are graduating students, good matches are critical. The Quantum Recruiting Forum facilitates this. To step back and review accomplishments of the prior year the CQE Year in Review summarizes notable achievements. From a more systems-level perspective this new article, New analysis paves way for more sensitive quantum sensors allows the performance of quantum systems to grow exponentially with the size which is encouraging and exciting news!

Exciting topics in the articles below include AI in the Water/Energy nexus, the significance of building and maintaining infrastructure of all sorts, and how we can jump off the lessons learned from 2020 in the rest of the decade. Enjoy!

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have! I find that the best way to keep these strategies fresh and interesting is to revisit them often!

Felix Lu
Director of Corporate Engagement
The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering
The Industry Seminar Series - a way for students to connect with industry professionals
Graduate Student Internships

Are you looking for interns with a highly developed laboratory and/or computational skill set? We are encouraging our 3rd and 4th year PhD students who are curious about industrial positions to seek out internships with companies. Companies can help by providing contact points and a description of the position. Please send any questions or solicitations to Felix.
Additionally, companies that are actively working with faculty can discuss getting NSF funding for graduate student internships by applying for it through the normal faculty led proposals.
Mid-September, Industry Alumni event (tentatively Sept 14-17, 2021).

UChicago Alumni days: June 4-7, 2021

Convocation: June 12, 2021

2020 PME Year in Review video
Join our PME / Industry linkedIn Groups to get occasional updates and interesting articles!

A small group of senior PhD students and postdocs had 90 minute informal conversations with eight separate companies (shown above) - learning about the culture and prospects of working at these and similar companies. This 'Trek' was coordinated by Drs. Abby Stayart (MyChoice), Briana Konnick and Mike Tessel (UChicagoGRAD), and Felix Lu (PME).

This was the first time engineering and physical science focused companies in the sustainability theme had the focus and its success was at least partially based on Abby's track record of doing this for a number of years with life science based companies. The conversations were enlightening and the industrial scientists and engineers offered insightful advice. Background materials were exchanged prior to the meeting to manage expectations.

While this was not intended to be a recruitment event, companies essentially get an early look at potential hires, while students and postdocs increase exposure to different companies, many of which may have flown under the radar.

If your company would like to participate in this in the future, please let Felix Lu know.

Argonne’s lead water strategist addresses questions on managing our precious water resources.

Many questions surround how to best solve the numerous problems involving efficient management of our precious water resources. We asked a few questions regarding water science and engineering of Junhong Chen, lead water strategist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and a professor of molecular engineering at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. Prior to coming to Chicago, Chen served as a program director for the Engineering Research Centers program of the U.S. National Science Foundation.
The research team aims to figure out how to obtain nanomaterials from plants in order to develop bio-based inks, which could be used to manufacture biodegradable batteries and sensors. This would lower device costs and make the supply chain more resilient during disruptions (like a pandemic).

The project could lead to scientific advances in three areas: precision growth of plants, manufacturing of tailored bio-based inks, and sustainable production of printable electronics.

Chen is particularly excited about what he calls the “circular manufacturing” aspect of the project. Sensors printed using the plant-derived inks will be used to monitor the growth of these plants and further optimize the inks.

Tyler Skluzacek remembers his dad as a fun, outgoing man before he left to serve in Iraq. When Patrick Skluzacek came home in 2007, says his son, he had changed.

Patrick was being consumed by nightmares. At night his dreams took him back to Fallujah, where he had served in the U.S. Army as a convoy commander. He sweated profusely and thrashed around in his sleep, sometimes violently.
The nightmares were so vivid and so terrible that he feared closing his eyes. The only way he could get to sleep was with vodka and pills, he says.

"That means that sometimes research that doesn’t have a clear commercial application won’t get funded. And it’s really important to tell that early part of the story, because too often, all people see is the last part of the story. And the last part of this story can often be a company that takes the last steps of some technology, the pharmaceutical company that takes basic research that was done at one of our universities and turns it into a blockbuster drug that has a tremendous impact on a lot of people. That’s great, but it hides the full story, and we need to make sure that the full story gets told."

Bringing together soft, malleable living cells with hard, inflexible electronics can be a difficult task. UChicago researchers have developed a new method to face this challenge by utilizing microscopic structures to build up bioelectronics rather than creating them from the top down – turning out a highly customizable product.

Researchers are very interested in creating electronics that can interface seamlessly with biological tissues; these could be used as tools to investigate how cells and tissues work or as medical devices—such as tissue stimulations to treat Parkinson’s disease or cardiac problems.
Does your technical management want an executive understanding of Quantum Engineering and how it may benefit your company?

While most of the news in 2020 was dominated by the pandemic and politics, there was also a significant amount of excitement in the quantum field. Quantum information science had a banner year in the U.S. with federal agencies awarding more than $700M to support large-scale scientific endeavors, significant advancements in quantum information science, and the launch of programs that will help the nation retain global leadership in this critical field. As we move into 2021, we look back at some of the Chicago Quantum Exchange’s most significant milestones and advancements.

In summer 2020, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced $700M in funding to quantum information science centers and institutes through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Three out of those eight new centers were awarded to Chicago Quantum Exchange member institutions.

  • Two DOE Quantum Information Science Research Centers, each funded at $115M
  • Q-NEXT, led by Argonne National Laboratory
  • Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center (SQMS), led by Fermilab
  • Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN) an NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Each of these Illinois-led federal centers engages dozens of researchers and students across CQE universities, national laboratories and industry partners.

Working with theorists in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, researchers in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have achieved a scientific control that is a first of its kind. They demonstrated a novel approach that allows real-time control of the interactions between microwave photons and magnons, potentially leading to advances in electronic devices and quantum signal processing.

Quantum sensors can measure extremely small changes in an environment by taking advantage of quantum phenomena like entanglement, where entangled particles can affect each other, even when separated by great distances.Researchers ultimately hope to create and use these sensors to detect and diagnose disease, predict volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, or explore underground without digging.

In pursuit of that goal, theoretical researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago have found a way to make quantum sensors exponentially more sensitive.

By harnessing a unique physics phenomenon, the researchers have calculated a way to develop a sensor that has a sensitivity that increases exponentially as it grows, without using more energy. The results were published Oct. 23 in Nature Communications.
The latest updates and ways to engage:

Sustainable Materials Systems

Hydrogen bonds are typically thought of as weak electrical attractions rather than true chemical bonds. Covalent bonds, on the other hand, are strong chemical bonds that hold together atoms within a molecule and result from electrons being shared among atoms. Now, researchers report that an unusually strong variety of hydrogen bond is in fact a hybrid, as it involves shared electrons, blurring the distinction between hydrogen and covalent bonds.

“Our understanding of chemical bonding, the way we teach it, is very much black and white,” says chemist Andrei Tokmakoff of the University of Chicago. The new study shows that “there’s actually a continuum.”
Innovation Fest Polsky
Articles of interest to our corporate affiliates, but not associated with the University of Chicago

It’s time to create the National Institutes of Energy Innovation.

This year has been a tragic reminder that we need to do a better job of preparing for global threats. The world wasn’t ready for COVID-19. In Melinda’s and my Annual Letter, coming out next month, I’ll write about what we can learn from this pandemic to help us prepare for the next one.

There’s another global disaster we also need to try to prevent: climate change. As I have tried to make clear on this blog over the past two years, we have only some of the tools we need to eliminate the world’s greenhouse gases. We need breakthroughs in the way we generate and store clean electricity, grow food,
make things, move around, and heat and cool our buildings, so we can do all these things without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

In short, we need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy—and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding, and focus from the federal government. No one else has the resources to drive the research we need.

How fundamentally difficult is a problem? That’s the basic task of computer scientists who hope to sort problems into what are called complexity classes. These are groups that contain all the computational problems that require less than some fixed amount of a computational resource — something like time or memory. Take a toy example featuring a large number such as 123,456,789,001.

One might ask: Is this number prime, divisible only by 1 and itself? Computer scientists can solve this using fast algorithms — algorithms that don’t bog down as the number gets arbitrarily large. In our case, 123,456,789,001 is not a prime number. Then we might ask: What are its prime factors? Here no such fast algorithm exists — not unless you use a quantum computer. Therefore computer scientists believe that the two problems are in different complexity classes.

This essay explains how quantum computers work. It’s not a survey essay, or a popularization based on hand-wavy analogies. We’re going to dig down deep so you understand the details of quantum computing. Along the way, we’ll also learn the basic principles of quantum mechanics, since those are required to understand quantum computation.

Learning this material is challenging. Quantum computing and quantum mechanics are famously “hard” subjects, often presented as mysterious and forbidding. If this were a conventional essay, chances are that you’d rapidly forget the material. But the essay is also an experiment in the essay form. As I’ll explain in detail below the essay incorporates new user interface ideas to help you remember what you read. That may sound surprising, but uses a well-validated idea from cognitive science known as spaced-repetition testing. More detail on how it works below. The upshot is that anyone who is curious and determined can understand quantum computing deeply and for the long term.

Researchers are testing 64 coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials on humans. Here are explanations about how nine of the leading vaccines work.

National defense bill incentivizes establishment and expansion of leading-edge foundries

The U.S. move is just one among a series of maneuvers taking place globally as countries and regions seek to build up or regain chipmaking capabilities. China has been on an investment streak through its Made in China 2025 plan. In December, Belgium, France, Germany, and 15 other European Union nations agreed to jointly bolster Europe’s semiconductor industry, including moving toward 2-nanometer node production. The money for this would come from the 145-billion-euro portion of the EU’s pandemic recovery fund set aside for “digital transition.”

Our massive physical infrastructure needs (leaking pipes, overwhelmed sewers, and outdated treatment plants) often overshadow the needs of individual households. Water is ultimately an enabler for health and opportunity, but too many people cannot access or afford it. Lower-income communities of color frequently face some of the greatest water inequities—increased lead exposure and other harmful contaminants threaten drinking water quality in many of these communities, while storm and wastewater overflows inundate their streets and backyards. COVID-19’s economic impacts have also highlighted persistent struggles to pay bills and avoid water shutoffs.

Our reluctance to invest means that we allow our water systems to deteriorate until they nearly fail and invest in them only after the public decides that the status quo is unacceptable. Our water systems’ shortcomings were brought to the public’s attention by Flint, Michigan’s, recent experience. But it doesn’t end there: Water systems are teetering on the edge of viability in numerous cities. We have seen this pattern before—and the present-day warning for us all is that the past is often prologue.
Mike Strizki powers his house and cars with hydrogen he home-brews. He is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries.
Batteries, plastics, renewable raw materials: new ideas for the circular economy.

"Companies that can provide solutions for the transformation to a circular economy will have a crucial competitive advantage," said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and chief technology officer of BASF, speaking about the circular economy, a key issue of the future in society and politics. 

The ebb and flow of vehicles along congested highways was what first drew Lisa Manning to her preferred corner of physics, during the summer before she began her graduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was mesmerized by the emergent behaviors in the traffic flow — “how you could start out with local rules between cars and get waves of jams through traffic,” she said. But it wasn’t until after she had earned her doctorate in physics in 2008 that Manning started applying that enthusiasm to problems in biology.

Understanding the dynamics of granular materials—such as sand flowing through an hourglass or salt pouring through a shaker—is a major unsolved problem in physics. A new paper describes a pattern for how record-sized "shaking" events affect the dynamics of a granular material as it moves from an excited to a relaxed state, adding to the evidence that a unifying theory underlies this behavior.

PETase breaks down polyethylene terephthalate (PET) back into its building blocks, creating an opportunity to recycle plastic infinitely and reduce plastic pollution and the greenhouse gases driving climate change.

PET is the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets and it takes hundreds of years to break down in the environment, but PETase can shorten this time to days.

The initial discovery set up the prospect of a revolution in plastic recycling, creating a potential low-energy solution to tackle plastic waste. The team engineered the natural PETase enzyme in the laboratory to be around 20 percent faster at breaking down PET.
How the ‘Diabolical’ Beetle Survives Being Run Over by a Car
The puny insect can withstand forces 39,000 times its body weight. Scientists just discovered its super-strength secret—which could inspire new materials.

Though it may be counterintuitive, our research shows that ad-hoc teams tasked with innovating under extreme time pressure will be more effective if they minimize upfront coordination and avoid attempting to compress established work processes to fit an accelerated time frame. It’s completely natural to seek order and stick to the familiar when things get chaotic. But sometimes, the only way to be successful is to embrace the chaos.

Glass is amorphous in nature—its atomic structure does not involve the repetitive arrangement seen in crystalline materials. But occasionally, it undergoes a process called devitrification, which is the transformation of a glass into a crystal—often an unwanted process in industries. The dynamics of devitrification remain poorly understood because the process can be extremely slow, spanning decades or more.
Upcoming Events in 2021

Innovation thrives when it has power and status within an organization. To enable real innovative growth — and rapid response in the face of such crises such as Covid-19 — boards and company leaders must structure top organizational roles to give innovative efforts the resources and attention they need. In our work on business model innovation with over 100 large and medium-sized companies, we’ve found that companies looking for transformation have two good options: an entrepreneurial CEO or a powerful chief entrepreneur.

One thing that might get more people talking about geothermal is the somewhat serendipitous opportunity it offers to the oil and gas industry, which is reeling from oversupply, persistently low prices, and cratering demand caused by the pandemic. Consequently, it is hemorrhaging jobs.

Focusing innovation solely around the core business may enable a company to coast for a while—until the industry suddenly passes it by. A mindset that views risk as something to be avoided rather than managed can be unwittingly reinforced by how the business case is measured. Transformational projects at one company faced a higher internal-rate-of-return hurdle than incremental R&D, even after the probability of success had been factored into their valuation, reducing their chances of securing funding and tilting the pipeline toward initiatives close to the core.
Potential investments in offshore wind and hydrogen are on the near-term horizon, says CEO Bernard Looney.

Like many of its peers, BP is eyeing the potential of hydrogen across its business. Looney again stated that hydrogen is unlikely to become a significant accounting line until 2030. Despite that, he trailed an uptick in hydrogen activity in the short term.

BP is backing both blue and green hydrogen. A gas power plant in northeast England with carbon capture and storage capabilities will be the foundation of a low-carbon industrial cluster with blue hydrogen fed to industrial customers.
Pfizer's new vaccine has to be stored at extremely low temperatures. Here's how things work when it gets that cold.

But what's different about the –80 degree freezer for vaccine storage? It turns out that it's pretty much impossible to get the inside temperature of the freezer down to –80°C with your normal refrigerant. Instead, you need TWO sets of refrigerants. It's sort of like a freezer inside of a freezer. The outer freezer is pretty much like the one in your kitchen. The inner freezer uses a different refrigerant (maybe isopropyl alcohol) so that when it's compressed, it can cool off inside of the normal freezer. But having two compressors is what makes these more expensive.

A new year is a perfect reason to learn something new — like how to program a real quantum computer.

Quantum computers are devices that use the same mathematical rules governing the behavior of subatomic particles to perform calculations. We hope that one day, they’ll be able to solve problems in physics, chemistry, business, and other fields faster or more efficiently than regular computers. The field still has plenty of growth to do, so now is the perfect time to hop on board and help shape its future. Anyone can program a real quantum computer — it just takes a basic understanding of the Python programming language, familiarity with a few high school-level mathematical topics like linear algebra and complex numbers, and a computer connected to the internet.

Don’t know where to start? Well, you’ve already found the Qiskit blog, so you’re well on your way. Qiskit is an open-source software development kit and community dedicated to writing code on real quantum hardware. We’ve released tons of learning resources, from our Coding with Qiskit video series and our Learn Quantum Computation using Qiskit textbook to our free, comprehensive Introduction to Quantum Computing and Quantum Hardware course.
Does your company want to work with UChicago/PME?

Different ways to explore interactions with the PME:

  • senior design projects
  • internships (undergraduate and graduate students)
  • materials characterization /device fabrication facilities
  • participation in FORUM/Public events
  • give an industry seminar on your job/company/career path!
  • Licensing opportunities (I'll connect you with the Polsky center)
  • Do you want to do more computational/AI work in your product R&D?

  • Ask Felix!
Campus information
PARKING - You are welcome to park for free on certain streets if you can find it. The closest parking lot to the Eckhardt Research Center is the North parking lot located at the SE corner of 55th St and South Ellis Ave.