Solid-state expert Nathalie de Leon has won the APS quantum computing award

Written by
Scott Lyon
Oct. 7, 2022

The American Physical Society (APS) has awarded Nathalie de Leon the 2023 Rolf Landauer and Charles H. Bennett Award in Quantum Computing. 

The award recognizes de Leon’s contributions to experimental quantum information science, especially in “materials discovery and enhancement.” The citation emphasized her work turning fundamental discoveries in solid-state physics into technologies for quantum computing, sensing and networking.

de Leon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has pioneered an effort to use diamonds as platforms for quantum technologies. While the cut stones of the jewelry world are typically prized for their beauty, de Leon has shown how to manufacture artificial diamonds with precisely controlled imperfections, sometimes called color centers, that enable researchers to manipulate individual electrons. It’s one of the only quantum-information platforms that works at room temperature, rather than the near-absolute zero temperatures of other systems.

glowing blue and green light over portal
Nathalie de Leon has shown that diamond color centers, when precisely controlled, provide a promising platform for a host of quantum technologies. The APS award recognizes her pioneering work in this field. Image courtesy Nathalie de Leon

In a 2018 paper in Science, she demonstrated a new color center in diamond that combined long spin coherence times (a key factor for qubit memory) with excellent optical properties, an outstanding problem in the field. A follow-up paper in 2020 pointed the way toward using light to control these qubits. de Leon also uses nitrogen-based diamond color centers for nanoscale sensing, a platform with the potential to reveal unprecedented detail in proteins, DNA and other biomolecules.

A separate thrust of her research explores new materials for superconducting quantum circuits used to process and store information. Working closely with Andrew Houck, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Robert Cava, the Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry, she found that using the metal tantalum in a key part of the circuit produced a threefold extension in the lifetime of its information — the most significant improvement to such a device in nearly a decade.

The Landauer-Bennet Award, established in 2015 by the APS Division on Quantum Information, goes to one researcher each year. It includes $5,000 and the cost of travel to the APS March meeting, where de Leon will give an invited lecture.

de Leon joined the Princeton faculty in 2016. She earned her Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard University, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow from 2011 to 2015. She has received an early career award from the U.S. Energy Department, a DARPA Young Faculty Award, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a Sloan Research Fellowship, among many other honors. She was promoted to associate professor earlier this year.