Bowen Yang receives IQC Achievement Award for quantum materials research

Friday, August 26, 2022
by Kaitlin O'Brien

The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Institute for Quantum Computing's Achievement Award. This award is given to University of Waterloo graduate students who studied quantum information and have achieved excellence in research. This year's recipients feature three PhD students; Bowen Yang; Shayan Majidy; and Xi Dai.

Award winner Bowen Yang sat down with us to discuss his PhD research in quantum materials, the opportunities he’s received while at IQC, and his recommendations for students interested in learning and gaining more experience with quantum.

  1.  Congratulations on your Achievement Award Bowen. Could you explain what interested you in quantum information and how you ended up studying quantum information science at IQC?

In my PhD program, the main focus of my research is quantum materials, which is one of the main branches in quantum computing science. During my undergrad, I was financially supported by the Nankai physics department to do research abroad in Canada. At that time, I was lucky to have my application accepted by Professor Adam Wei Tsen at IQC and then under his supervision, I studied quantum materials for six months. As a visiting student, I was attracted by the advances of quantum materials, especially two-dimensional (2D) van der Waals materials, and the corresponding applications in spintronics and quantum computing. Professor Tsen later provided me with the incredible opportunity to work in his lab as a graduate student at IQC.

  1. What are you researching for your PhD and what is the significance of this research?

I was studying magnetic 2D materials for my PhD. 2D materials refers to crystalline lattice consisting of single or few atomic layers.  The existence of magnetism in such a system was recently verified in 2017. In this new sub-field, various unprecedented properties were uncovered. In the last five years, I have had two significant research achievements on this topic. First, we discovered over one million percent change in resistance with external magnetic field applied in a few-atomic-layer magnetic material, CrI3. The astonishing effect presents new opportunities in magnetic storage, magnetic sensors and more applications in spintronics based on 2D materials.  Second, in single alpha-RuCl3 atomic sheet, we proposed the feasibility of realizing Quantum Spin Liquid state, which is an exotic phase of matter in condensed matter physics and has been sought-after for decades because of potential applications in fault-tolerant topological quantum computing.

  1. What challenges did you face during your PhD?

In my PhD, one thing I learned is to keep a positive attitude especially when things aren’t going according to plan.  In the last five years, bad data was much more common than consistent and publishable data. My first lesson during my PhD was how to contend with unexpected or unfavorable results. Most of the time, these results do not lead to new science, but instead arise from mistakes in sample fabrication, experiment designs or measurements. In one of the projects which I spent three years on, I even had to fabricate hundreds of samples to have consistent and trustable data. Learning how to be resilient, accept failure, and maintain a positive outlook is the first thing a PhD student should know.

  1.   What does winning the IQC Achievement Award mean to you?

To be awarded the scholarship is a great honor and, it inspires me to continue to devote myself to the meaningful and fascinating scientific research I am conducting. I would like to thank my supervisor, my group members, and my collaborators. These achievements would not be possible without their efforts and persistence.

  1. What’s next for you in quantum information science?

In the following two years, I will continue my research in Professor Tsen’s group, focusing on magnetic 2D materials and investigating their applications in quantum information science. After that, I may return to my home country and look for a faculty position in relevant fields.

  1. Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about applying to a quantum information program or is interested in learning more about quantum sciences?

Quantum information science covers many branches and topics.  It would be beneficial for future students to have a basic understanding of this research beforehand, as it is important to know which topics and research areas interest them the most before applying. To gain this experience, I would suggest that potential future applicants should look for work in a relevant lab during their undergrad, attend conferences and events, or reach out and talk to professors or graduate students in this field.

Student working in a laboratory surrounded by cables and two computer screens

Bowen working in the low-temperature laboratory for quantum materials.