Prestigious New Horizons in Physics Prize awarded to UChicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering faculty Hannes Bernien

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation today announced it has selected Hannes Bernien, assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering to receive the 2023 New Horizons in Physics Prize alongside colleagues from Caltech, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Innsbruck, and the University of Colorado.

Given to promising early-career researchers who have produced significant work, Bernien and his colleagues are being recognized for developing optical tweezer arrays able to control individual atoms for use in quantum information science, metrology, and molecular physics.

Bernien shares the $100,000 prize with Manuel Endres of Caltech, Adam Kaufman of the University of Colorado, Kang-Kuen Ni of Harvard, Hannes Pichler of the University of Innsbruck and Jeff Thompson of Princeton.

“It is an incredible honor to receive the New Horizons in Physics Prize,” said Bernien. “I am very proud that arrays of individual atoms have become one of the most promising architectures for quantum information science. It is very exciting that we are taking this approach in new directions at the University of Chicago.”

Quantum technology presents enormous potential for applications in industry, economy, and other aspects of society. In order to realize much of this potential, quantum systems must be scaled up while being able to preserve and control their quantum states with high precision.

Bernien and his colleagues successfully developed a novel ‘bottom-up’ method in which large quantum systems are assembled atom by atom. Using arrays of tightly focused laser beams, individual atoms are captured and assembled in arbitrary geometries. Their quantum state can then be manipulated and measured using a combination of laser light and microwave radiation.

These atom arrays can function as quantum processors and are strong contenders for building a quantum computer capable of solving certain computational problems much faster than currently possible with classical computers. Industry is taking notice of this potential and there are now multiple companies pursuing quantum computing with atom arrays.

At the same time, Bernien’s development can also operate as a quantum simulator in which artificial quantum materials are created. Of particular interest are materials in which quantum effects such as large-scale entanglement plays an important role. Such a simulator with its high precision control can shed light on fundamental questions in science as well as inform the development of real materials.

Says Bernien, “I am excited about all the new possibilities that atom arrays offer for tackling some of the biggest questions in quantum science, as well as developing new technologies. I have an amazing team here at UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and together we will keep pushing these frontiers.”

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation recognizes the world’s top scientists working in the fundamental sciences — the disciplines that ask the biggest questions and find the deepest explanations. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki.

Previous Breakthrough Prize Foundation award winners at the University of Chicago include Craig Hogan in 2015; Daniel Holz and Hsin-Yu Chen in 2016; Alex Eskin in 2019; Michael Levin in 2020; and Sebastian Hurtado-Salazar in 2022.