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DARPA’s SynQuaNon Disruption Opportunity: Unleashing the Potential of Synthetic Quantum Nanostructures

Electronic metamaterials and nanostructures represent innovative classes of engineered materials and structures designed at the nanoscale level to exhibit unique and tailored electronic properties. These materials differ from naturally occurring substances as they are precisely designed to manipulate and enhance the behavior of electrons in a controlled manner.

Novel electronic metamaterials and nanostructures represent a cutting-edge approach to address key challenges in quantum-limited superconducting (SC) nanoelectronics. These engineered materials are designed at the nanoscale to precisely control and enhance electronic properties. In the context of SC nanoelectronics, they play a crucial role by enabling enhanced performance at elevated temperatures, scalability, and higher operational frequencies. These materials also contribute to improving quantum coherence and overcoming material-related challenges, ultimately unlocking the full potential of quantum technologies for applications in quantum information science and beyond. The need for such materials arises from the aspiration to push the boundaries of quantum behavior and to create practical, high-performance quantum devices and systems.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)  launched its Disruption Opportunity (DO) named “Synthetic Quantum Nanostructures” or SynQuaNon. This initiative, issued under the Program Announcement for Disruptioneering, DARPA-PA-23-03, invites pioneering research concepts in the field of novel electronic metamaterials and nanostructures with a focus on quantum-limited superconducting nanoelectronics.

The Quest for Quantum Enhancement

The “Quest for Quantum Enhancement” signifies our recent progress in harnessing the extraordinary properties of quantum mechanics within specially designed artificial materials and structures. These materials, known as synthetic nanostructures and electronic metamaterials, have allowed us to precisely control the behavior of electrons on a tiny scale. Imagine it as building custom materials atom by atom.

This advancement is especially exciting when applied to superconducting nanoelectronics. These are the tiny electronic devices that operate under extremely cold conditions and have great potential for quantum technology. They include things like quantum bits (qubits), which are crucial for quantum computing, as well as single-photon detectors and amplifiers used in quantum communication. DARPA’s SynQuaNon program aims to pioneer new ways to engineer these quantum-limited superconducting nanoelectronic devices using synthetic quantum materials. What’s really intriguing is the focus on creating electronic metamaterials or nanostructures that can be produced on a larger scale, potentially revolutionizing how we make quantum technology practical and accessible.

Unveiling the Objectives

The overarching objective of the SynQuaNon DO is to catalyze theoretical and computational research that explores the transformative potential of electronic metamaterials and nanostructure-based materials engineering. The focus is on advancing the state of the art in quantum-limited superconducting nanoelectronics, with a specific emphasis on applications in quantum information science (QIS).

Proposals are expected to steer clear of quantum materials that are unrelated to viable superconducting nanoelectronic devices. Instead, the emphasis lies on the development of a roadmap for electronic metamaterial structures, models, nanoelectronic device designs, and theoretical analyses. These insights are expected to lay the foundation for experimental demonstrations of metamaterial-based superconducting quantum nanoelectronic devices with enhanced performance characteristics, particularly at elevated temperatures and frequency regimes.

Navigating the Structure

Proposals for the SynQuaNon DO must adhere to a structured approach involving two independent and sequential project phases: a Phase 1 Feasibility Study and a Phase 2 Proof of Concept. The Phase 1 effort spans 9 months, followed by a 9-month Phase 2 effort, bringing the combined project duration to 18 months. The Phase 1 award value is capped at $350,000, while the Phase 2 award value can go up to $525,000. The total award value for both phases is limited to $875,000, encompassing government funding and performer cost share if applicable.

Exploring Technical Areas

Superconducting materials are the linchpin of many nanoelectronic devices relevant to quantum information science. However, conventional superconductors often demand extremely low temperatures for operation due to weak electron-phonon interactions. On the other hand, high-Tc materials, while promising, face challenges related to synthesis, quantum coherence, scalability, and thermal properties.

This is where quantum electronic metamaterials step in. These materials open up new avenues for manipulating and enhancing device-relevant functionalities, which are otherwise inaccessible in native materials. Research has shown that metamaterial-based approaches can boost superconducting energy gaps, improve thermal conductivity, and enhance kinetic nonlinearity, all of which translate into superior device performance.

The range of devices that will be explored within this program as a testbed for novel quantum metamaterials include, but are not limited to, SC qubits capable of operation at elevated temperatures and frequency regimes; single photon detectors and bolometers with beyond-state-of-the-art sensitivity and timing resolution for sensing, imaging, and communications; and quantum-limited signal processing technologies for scalable computing, millimeter-wave communications, and quantum-enhanced sensing.

Of particular interest within the SynQuaNon DO are metamaterial-based superconducting qubit architectures, quantum-limited parametric amplifiers in the millimeter-wave range, and photon detectors with enhanced spectral range and temporal resolution. Proposals must outline novel electronic metamaterials and their integration into scalable fabrication processes.

The Roadmap Ahead

The path ahead for SynQuaNon is delineated by a series of fixed milestones. During Phase 1, teams are expected to present their proposed materials, complete theoretical and computational frameworks, and provide preliminary results. This phase culminates in a comprehensive final report summarizing findings and potential impacts on superconducting device performance.

Phase 2 dives deeper into device-level integration, with teams offering preliminary descriptions of superconducting nanoelectronic devices that incorporate the metamaterials studied in Phase 1. Performance enhancements are analyzed theoretically and computationally, leading to a holistic modeling of proposed devices. The culmination of Phase 2 is a final report that provides detailed SC device designs with predicted performance metrics and comparisons to existing state-of-the-art devices.

Seizing the Disruption Opportunity

The Synthetic Quantum Nanostructures Disruption Opportunity, as presented by DARPA, promises to pave the way for transformative breakthroughs in quantum-limited superconducting nanoelectronics. By harnessing the power of synthetic quantum materials and electronic metamaterials, researchers have the chance to redefine the boundaries of what is possible in quantum information science. As the scientific community embarks on this journey, it brings us one step closer to realizing the full potential of quantum technologies.

About Rajesh Uppal

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