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ORNL: Zapf named deputy director of the Quantum Science Center

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Vivien Zapf has been named deputy director of the Quantum Science Center headquartered at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The QSC combines resources and expertise from national laboratories, universities and industry partners to accelerate the design and development of novel quantum technologies.

Zapf is a scientist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s Pulsed Field Facility located at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of five core QSC partners along with ORNL, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Purdue University and Microsoft. Having led the QSC’s quantum spin liquids subject area since the center launched in 2020, Zapf now succeeds ORNL’s Stephen Jesse, who has served as interim deputy director since January 2022.

“With the Nobel prize having just been awarded in the field of quantum entanglement, quantum research is on the cusp of additional breakthroughs that could go in many different directions,” Zapf said. “Knowing that QSC researchers have the potential to contribute to quantum technologies that could have transformative impacts on society is truly awe-inspiring.”

In her new role, Zapf will collaborate extensively with QSC Director Travis Humble and other members of the leadership team to oversee research related to quantum materials, sensors and algorithms as well as continue the center’s steady stream of workforce development activities aimed at identifying and educating the next generation of quantum scientists and engineers.

At LANL, Zapf conducts research in quantum information science, quantum magnetism, magnetoelectronics and multiferroic materials, which are prized for their combination of useful magnetic and electrical properties. She received her bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvey Mudd College and earned her master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the University of California, San Diego, before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology and subsequently joining LANL as a postdoctoral researcher in 2004.

A fellow of the American Physical Society, Zapf was recognized as an APS outstanding referee in 2019 and currently serves as the chair of APS’s Division of Materials Physics. She also leads the magneto-electric couplings in quantum materials thrust for the Center for Molecular Magnetic Quantum Materials, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center located at the University of Florida.

Additionally, Zapf brings her expertise in quantum spin liquids to the position of deputy director. Her research in this area focuses on using high magnetic fields as tools to induce, probe and understand potential quantum spin liquid states, and she has worked with the QSC’s quantum spin liquids team to study particles called non-Abelian anyons, which show promise for eventual quantum information applications.

Such insights are invaluable for advancing the center’s research objectives, such as cultivating a better understanding of complex quantum states within magnetic and electronic materials. These materials can form robust states of matter capable of advancing quantum computing, optimizing quantum algorithms and addressing the long-standing problem of noise in high-performance quantum devices.

“The QSC’s goal is to be an environment that fosters the cross-fertilization of ideas and forward progress, so the challenge I will apply myself to is to help ensure that the center’s vast and dynamic research efforts are as interconnected as possible,” Zapf said. “I’m truly excited to see the results.”

The QSC, a DOE National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by ORNL, performs cutting-edge research at national laboratories, universities and industry partners to overcome key roadblocks in quantum state resilience, controllability and ultimately the scalability of quantum technologies. QSC researchers are designing materials that enable topological quantum computing; implementing new quantum sensors to characterize topological states and detect dark matter; and designing quantum algorithms and simulations to provide a greater understanding of quantum materials, chemistry and quantum field theories. These innovations enable the QSC to accelerate information processing, explore the previously unmeasurable, and better predict quantum performance across technologies.

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