New Distinguished Professorship of Applied Quantum Technologies
A portrait of Prof. Roland Nagy
“Anyone who might have dared to suggest controlling a single photon, let alone an electron, 20 years ago would have been considered to have lost touch with reality,” states quantum engineer Professor Roland Nagy. Today, researchers like him and his team at FAU are even able to use the effects of such subatomic particles at room temperature. The new institute, made possible thanks to funding from the Free State of Bavaria, is now set to accelerate his research and become a beacon for research in Bavaria.
“Quantum engineering is a young, dynamic research field applying findings from the field of particle physics to engineering,” explains Roland Nagy. “The focus lies on quanta, the smallest measurable units in our world, and their specific properties and states. Their ‘entanglement’ or ‘superposition’ lends itself to innumerable highly sensitive applications. Prof. Dr. Roland Nagy was appointed head of the prestigious Institute of Applied Quantum Technologies at the Faculty of Engineering at FAU in June 2023. The Bavarian Ministry of Science and the Arts provided 4 million euros in funding from the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria to establish the professorship. For Nagy, the position is not only an outstanding recognition of his work, but above all a catalyst for his ideas and inventions. He believes that the position at FAU will allow him to extend his own expertise in quantum technologies at the same time as expanding the range of available technical possibilities, for example with reference to research instruments.
Nagy’s acknowledges that his career to date has “not been as straightforward as other researchers.” After completing school, an apprenticeship as an electrician and a Bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Deggendorf Institute of Technology he gathered work experience in industry, for example at Infineon AG. He then started to study for a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and information technology at FAU, writing his Master’s thesis on the electrical properties of future semiconductor technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology in Erlangen. “It was while I was completing my Master’s degree that I discovered my passion for researching entirely new technologies unlike anything that has gone before, particularly when they lead to new practical applications.” Nagy received a scholarship from the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes to work as a research associate at IBM in Yorktown Heights in the USA. “I was especially fascinated by the opportunity to work in what was at that time the entirely novel field of quantum computing.” In his subsequent doctoral thesis at the University of Stuttgart, he focused on quantum technologies in silicon carbide. After completing his doctoral thesis he returned to industry, this time to Carl-Zeiss AG, where he worked in the area of applied quantum sensors in the industrial sector.
Measuring an atom’s magnetic field
In 2020, Nagy accepted an appointment as an assistant professor at the Chair of Electron Devices at FAU with a focus on applied quantum technologies; now he has been appointed head of the prestigious new Institute of Applied Quantum Technologies. During his research, Nagy creates quantum technologies of what is known as the second generation. First generation quantum technologies use quantum effects for applications such as semiconductor chips or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). For second generation quantum technologies, however, we use what is known as quantum systems, such as photons or electrons,” the researcher explains. “Amazing technological advancements mean that we are now in a position to observe and make use of the properties of photons or electrons on the quantum level.”
Applications focus on three areas. “Quantum sensors can be used to measure physical quantities such as magnetic field, temperature or electric field. The relevant applications are sensitive enough to be able to measure the magnetic field of an individual atom, opening the door to a wide range of possible applications.” A number of projects are underway in, for example, the automotive industry, where quantum sensors are integrated in vehicles in order to monitor specific parameters, for example in self-driving vehicles or engine control units or to replace traditional sensors in engines.
Nuclear spins in silicon carbide
A second focus is on medical engineering applications. “Quantum sensors are considerably more sensitive than the MRI scanners that are currently available. For biopsies, for example, the magnetic field signature of a cell can tell us whether it is healthy or malignant.” Quantum networks are the third and largest of Nagy’s research interests. “Quantum networks use what are known as ‘quantum memory nodes’ to maintain the quantum state of an individual electron or photon over a long period of time. While this has remained a major challenge until now, we have now succeeded in achieving positive results in Erlangen using nuclear spins in silicon carbide.” Quantum memory nodes such as these allow us to create a scalable quantum network, “basically a quantum internet”, and integrate existing quantum computers into it.
Nagy is also keen to spark enthusiasm among students for technologies like these. “Quantum research is not only restricted to physicists, we also need engineers.” The area combines microelectronics with RF and microwave engineering, photonics and materials science, and FAU’s numerous industrial partners often report back on what a challenge it is to find experts in this area. As Nagy, a keen cyclist as well as a successful researcher, explains, “it is an exciting field that offers brand new opportunities.” “I am very, very happy every day for the opportunity to teach and research in the field of quantum technologies.”
Prof. Dr. Roland Nagy