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Spotlight: Building the Next Generation of Quantum Computers and Networks With Tasshi Dennis

Tasshi Dennis stands in his lab and reaches toward a countertop full of equipment with lots of wires and circuitry.
Credit: K. Palubicki/NIST

When NIST scientist Tasshi Dennis first encountered quantum physics as a student, he was skeptical it would ever amount to any practical applications. Little did he know that decades later, he would be at the forefront of NIST's efforts to build the next generation of quantum computers and networks.  

Tasshi’s path to quantum research was an unlikely one. In high school, his uncle, a medical doctor, tried to inspire him into a science career by gifting him a subscription to Scientific American magazine. He recalls that the articles in the magazine were hard to understand at the time, but there were a few topics that really stuck out to him, such as scientists making micro-machines through a process called nanofabrication, and exotic new devices, including quantum wires and dots.  

Intrigued, Tasshi decided to focus on optics and lasers in college, seeing them as a gateway into the nanofabrication world. After earning his Ph.D., he joined NIST, working on a wide range of projects from wavelength standards to biomedical imaging. "I always saw the quantum stuff happening around me, but I kind of ignored it," he says. "I thought it was just a quirky intellectual thing that would never amount to anything."  

That changed in 2019 when NIST launched a project to demonstrate a quantum network, which is a way of connecting quantum computers and devices, similar to how classical computers are networked today. Five years later, Tasshi serves as the project leader, developing the technology to network superconducting quantum computers — a critical step toward large-scale quantum computing.  

While he acknowledges that the technology is still decades away from widespread use, he's embraced the challenge. "I'm willing to take on the risk," he says. "I am training the next generation of scientists, but I'm learning it alongside them, which makes it really exciting."  

It's a far cry from the young Tasshi who dismissed quantum as an intellectual curiosity. But as he's discovered, sometimes the most promising opportunities lie in the places we least expect.

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Released April 15, 2024, Updated April 18, 2024