Quantum engineering leader Andrew Houck elected APS fellow

Tuesday, Nov 9, 2021
by Scott Lyon

Andrew Houck, a global leader in quantum engineering, has been elected a fellow of the American Physical Society. Houck's election recognizes pathbreaking contributions to quantum information processing and experimental systems that plumb the depths of quantum physics.

A professor of electrical and computer engineering, Houck builds machines that enable the study of fundamental interactions between light and matter. He helped develop the transmon qubit, one of the most widely used devices in quantum computing. It controls the fragile energy states of single electrons by leveraging the highly sensitive electromagnetic properties of superconducting metals such as aluminum. When built into a circuit, these superconducting qubits store and process quantum information—with the capacity to crunch numbers and simulate problems beyond the practical limits of classical computers. The transmon qubit, pioneered while Houck was a postdoctoral researcher, proved to be a key development in making quantum systems more reliable. Succeeding generations of this device power today's most advanced systems, including Google's Sycamore processor, which many scientists cite as the first quantum computer to do what classical computers cannot.

Researchers in Houck's lab have continued to invent and improve the performance of superconducting qubits, using an array of exotic materials and clever architectures. But Houck has also become a leading expert on the circuitry platforms that connect those qubits into larger machines that can be used to probe deep questions of fundamental science. With this expertise, Houck has developed myriad experimental systems that, computing aside, create conditions in which physicists can study in ever more minute detail the strange behaviors of photons and elementary particles—the kinds of machines first proposed by Richard Feynman in the 1980s.

Recently, Houck was named director of the Co-Design Center for Quantum Advantage, a new national quantum science center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that involves hundreds of researchers across 24 institutions. He is also the inaugural director of the Princeton Quantum initiative, which fosters collaboration among more than 30 research groups across several disciplines on campus. Houck first joined Princeton as an undergraduate student in 1996 and graduated valedictorian of the class of 2000. After completing his Ph.D. at Harvard University and a postdoctoral position at Yale University, he returned to Princeton as an assistant professor in 2008. He was awarded the Packard Fellowship in 2009 and a Presidential Early Career Award in 2010. In addition to many other research awards, he has received 15 separate commendations for outstanding teaching from Princeton's Dean of Engineering.