International postdoc chooses Chalmers

Gerard Higgins, postdoc at Stockholm University, has been awarded a prestigious International Postdoc Grant from the Swedish Research Council (VR) of 3 150 000 SEK. He will spend one year in the group of assistant professor Witlef Wieczorek at the Quantum Technology Laboratory at MC2 and two years in the groups of Prof. Markus Aspelmeyer and Dr. Michael Trupke at the University of Vienna, Austria. "I want to learn from their experience", says Gerard.
Picture of Mr Higgins.Gerard Higgins (to the left) is currently a member of Markus Hennrich's renowned research group at Stockholm University and will add much competence to Chalmers as soon as he gets here.

Gerard gets his grant for a project aiming to develop a new experimental platform to test the validity of quantum mechanics on macroscopic scales:
“Quantum physics describes tiny particles like atoms and molecules extremely well, but it's unclear what causes the boundary from the miniscule quantum world to our classical macroscopic world, and there's no consensus on how we can unite quantum theory and general relativity. In this project I want to develop a new system that may provide insight into these questions”, says Gerard.

He will spend two years in Markus Aspelmeyer's and Michael Trupke’s groups at the University of Vienna.
“Witlef's group at Chalmers and the teams around Markus Aspelmeyer and Michael Trupke at the University of Vienna have already been developing this kind of a system. I want to learn from their experience, and I want to push this promising research avenue forward. The Chalmers team and the Vienna teams are very welcoming, and the excellent clean room facilities at Chalmers are critical for the project's success”, says Gerard.

The experimental platform consists of superconducting microparticles which are levitated using magnetic fields.
“The plan is to carefully control the microparticles, and to try to put them in a quantum superposition of two different locations. This would test whether quantum physics is obeyed in heavy systems, which are a billion times heavier than the largest molecules ever used for tests of quantum physics. This would open up the door for future work testing the gravitational field produced by a heavy particle that is in a quantum superposition of locations!”

During his PhD and his first postdoc period, Gerard developed a new system that offers a promising new approach to quantum computing - so called trapped Rydberg ions.
“This involves exciting ions to gigantic Rydberg states, millions of times larger than normal atomic states. Ions in Rydberg states strongly interact with each other, and this enables faster quantum computing”, explains Gerard.

Outside the lab, he enjoys exploring Stockholm's archipelago in his sailboat.
“Now, I'm looking forward to exploring the West coast/best coast!” concludes Gerard.

The aim of the International Postdoc Grant is to offer researchers, who recently completed their PhDs at a Swedish Higher Education Institution, the opportunity to extend their networks and improve their qualifications through work stays abroad with secure employment conditions.

The Swedish Research Council got a total of 155 applications in this call, of them only 38 received a yes. Only two Chalmers related scientists have been awarded this time. Apart from Gerard Higgins, a grant has been given to Kjell Jorner, a chemist who currently is a postdoctoral fellow at Astra Zeneca.

The grant is awarded for the years 2020-2023.

Text: Michael Nystås
Photo: Private

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Published: Wed 17 Jun 2020.