Pittsburgh, PA,
18:53 PM

Two PhD Candidates Selected as PQI Fellows

These students wanted to join PQI to unlock potential advancements in quantum computing and science

Two PhD candidates at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are entering the quantum realm.

Jun Young Hong, a third-year PhD student in Pitt’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Daniel Vaz, a second-year PhD student in Pitt’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, were both selected as spring fellows for the Pittsburgh Quantum Institute (PQI) based on their proposals written to the PQI Steering Committee. 

“With the investments that the federal government and the University have made and continue to make into quantum computing, it is important that the Swanson School trains the next engineering leaders and continues its strong research in this area and being a critical part of PQI,” said David Vorp, senior associate dean for research and facilities at the Swanson School. 

PQI is a multidisciplinary research institute that focuses on quantum sciences and engineering with more than 140 faculty from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University.

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Jun Young Hong 

Hong’s proposal, “Integration of quantum materials in optical fiber for quantum sensing applications,” focuses on creating incredibly accurate sensors using special diamonds called NV (Nitrogen-Vacancy) diamonds, which have unique quantum properties. These diamonds have tiny flaws in their structure that act like super-sensitive detectors for small changes in things like magnetic fields and temperature.

The special thing about NV diamonds in the quantum field is that they can be used to sense and measure these changes with remarkable precision. Currently however, these diamond sensors only function well in laboratory conditions. The goal of Hong’s research is to make these sensors more practical and portable by connecting them with optical fibers, which are long, thin tubes that carry light signals. By doing this, Hong can create portable fiber-optic quantum sensors that can be used in various real-world applications.

“I was interested in becoming a PQI fellow because the organization's vision and mission strongly align with my own goals,” Hong said. “PQI aims to advance quantum research through collaboration and training future leaders, which matches my desire to help translate quantum innovations into real-world technologies. The interdisciplinary community would allow me to connect with experts across diverse fields like physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering to overcome research challenges.”


Daniel Vaz 

Vaz’s proposal, “TMD Heterostructures: An Alternate Pathway to Superconductivity,” focuses on  developing better electrical contacts to Transition-Metal-Dichalcogenides (TMD) and studying the charged excitons formed in bilayer TMDs in the presence of electric and magnetic fields. These electrical contacts will allow for better control over the number of charge carriers present in each layer of the bilayer heterostructure. In doing so, he will be able to control the relative density of neutral excitons to other higher-order charged excitons that form when light is shined on these heterostructures. If Vaz can find the right parameters, he may be able to condense all these excited states into one: the Quaternion state. The Quaternion state occurs when three electrons revolve around a hole, or three holes revolve around an electron. In this condensed state, it may become a superconductor at higher temperatures than currently observed – allowing for the creation of a new higher-temperature superconducting qubit. 

“To me, PQI represents a promise made to the people of Pittsburgh for inter-departmental academic excellence; and for nurturing the next generation of quantum technologies,” Vaz said. “Both are aims I strive for in my research and my goals for the future. Apart from that, I believe it to be a great opportunity to connect people and to give back to the community.”

A record number of students from the Swanson School applied for PQI fellowships this year. As fellows, Hong and Vaz will be able to pursue their proposed research and have the opportunity to present their findings at PQI’s annual spring event. They’ll also be part of community-building efforts.