Frolov Gets $3 Million to Study Fundamental Particle

Issue Date: 
June 2, 2014

USergey Frolovniversity of Pittsburgh physicist Sergey Frolov has received a $3 million Office of Naval Research Basic Research Challenge grant to explore ways of transforming quantum computing through the use of an unusual particle. Frolov will be the primary investigator for the study on the Majorana fermion, a long-posited but elusive elementary particle that Frolov and colleagues discovered in 2012. 

“First, this is of great fundamental interest to science,” said Frolov, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “We are greatly expanding the horizons of our knowledge, and we may be adding a new, third class of fundamental particles to fermions and bosons.”

On a more practical level, Frolov continued, Majorana fermions could be used to create a novel and incredibly powerful quantum computer. “A Majorana fermion quantum computer would be rather unusual,” he said. “It would process information differently because of the manner in which the particles are interchanged. Logical operations are undertaken by the physical swapping of Majorana fermion particles. There would be thousands of them, and they’d shuffle around; that’s how computation would proceed.”

Majorana fermions were first theorized in the 1930s, when physicist Ettore Majorana mathematically proved that there could be a particle that lived on the boundary of matter and antimatter, a particle that is also its own antiparticle. Frolov and colleagues were the first to identify them in a lab.

Their paper, “Signatures of Majorana fermions in hybrid superconductor-semiconductor nanowire devices,” made the cover of Science in 2012. Frolov worked on the project as a postdoctoral fellow at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science named the paper the best research article published in Science in 2012, honoring Frolov and his colleagues with the Newcomb Cleveland Prize Award.

Frolov also has recently won a 2014 Sloan Research Fellowship, a two-year award for early-career investigators that carries a $50,000 stipend in support of research. Since the program began in 1955, 42 Fellows have gone on to win a Nobel Prize, 16 have earned the Fields Medal in mathematics, and 63 have netted the National Medal of Science.

Frolov’s team for this venture will include researchers in his Pitt lab and others at Delft University of Technology, the University of Illinois, and Yale University. A second group, led by investigators at Princeton University, received an equivalent $3 million Basic Research Challenge grant to pursue a different line of inquiry into Majorana fermions.