Waterloo scientists awarded Early Researcher Awards Funding

Friday, May 20, 2022

Designing nano electrocatalysts, quantum simulations of particle interactions and trapped ions are three Waterloo Science research projects broadening disciplinary horizons and delivering real-world impact. Waterloo scientists Anna Klinkova, Christine Muschnik and Crystal Senko each received funding through the Government of Ontario's 2022 Early Researcher Awards program. 

Portrait of Anna KlinkovaCurbing carbon and nitrogen emissions is the central environmental challenge for the twenty-first century. Ammonia in wastewater discharge from human activities, including agriculture and landfill, is a growing concern because of its detrimental impact on aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, both carbon and nitrogen emissions from human activity result in climate change. When ammonia naturally degrades it produces nitrous oxide - which has a 298 times higher global warming potential compared to carbon dioxide - a well-recognized greenhouse gas. Anna Klinkova, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, is designing electrocatalysts to convert these waste molecules into value-added products.

Electrochemical technologies provide potential solutions to convert harmful emissions and waste into fuel. However, poor efficiency and selectivity in current reaction systems prevent their wide-spread commercial adaptation. Klinkova's research will help develop high-performance catalysts for an integrated electrochemical treatment of carbon and nitrogen waste by establishing a leading-edge nanoscience framework for their rational design. The scientific and technological advances of this research will facilitate Ontario’s transition to a circular economy.

Portrait of Christine MuschnikThe standard model of particle physics is the bedrock for our understanding of Nature. Numerical simulations of subatomic physics are restricted due to inherent limitations of classical computers to simulate quantum properties. Thus, there is an inescapable need to find new methods to address numerous open fundamental questions. Quantum computers can in principle overcome these roadblocks. However, to reap the rewards of this opportunity requires the development of new quantum simulation tools for so-called gauge theories which underlay the standard model.

Christine Muschik, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and member of the Institute for Quantum Computing, will develop the theoretical concepts to build these new types of quantum simulators, she will work with experimental partners on proof-of-concept demonstrations, and she will employ hybrid quantum-classical simulations that benefit from on machine learning.

By applying quantum technology to problems in particle physics, she will bridge two strong fields in Ontario, while establishing industry connections for knowledge transfer with Google and IBM.

Crystal Senko sitting down manipulating optics on a table.Quantum computing is expected to revolutionize technology. However, a major challenge in building quantum computers is the difficulty of allowing them to make decisions: given this quantum information, what should the computer do next? This difficulty arises from the fact that reading the information that tells the computer which decision to make, often corrupts the remaining quantum data due to fundamental rules of quantum measurement. Trapped ions offer a promising path to viable, hardware-based quantum computing. Trapped ions are electrically charged atoms suspended inside a vacuum chamber with electrodes. Once ions are trapped, researchers can encode bits of information in the spin of their outer electrons.

Crystal Senko, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will develop novel techniques to protect some quantum information while other information is being read out. Senko is the Canada Research Chair in Trapped Ion Quantum Computing. This research will raise the profile of Ontario as a leader in quantum computing research, by informing the design of next-generation quantum computers that include decision-making capabilities.

The Early Researcher Awards program helps new researchers, working at publicly funded Ontario research institutions, build a research team. The award covers equipment costs and facility expenses as well as salaries and travel for student research assistants.

Five other Waterloo researchers also received 2022 Early Researcher Awards funding - Martine August (Environment), Chris Bachmann (Engineering) as well as Shane McIntosh, Walaa Moursi and Sophie Spirkl (Math). 

Congratulations Anna, Christine and Crystal!