A Day in the Life of an ISEN Researcher
Nikolai Tcyrulnikov is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). His group, led by ISEN Executive Director Michael R. Wasielewski, focuses on light-driven processes in molecules, such as artificial photosynthesis and quantum information science. Tcyrulnikov is currently studying how organic molecules can be used to create quantum computers.
“We’re on the verge of a revolution in information technology and that’s thanks to quantum computers,” said Tcyrulnikov. “Quantum computers are going to change … how we think about information and how fast it is processed.”
Organic molecules like the ones Tcyrulnikov is studying can be used to form qubits, a two-level quantum system that powers quantum computers. When the organic molecule is hit with light, the electrons become excited and form a radical pair with spins that are quantum-mechanically correlated. These spins comprise a two-qubit system.
Qubits are “exponentially faster” than normal computer bits, but they are difficult to create and manipulate. With his research, Tcyrulnikov is using familiar processes of organic chemistry synthesis for new applications in quantum information science.
“We’re bringing these molecules into the 21st century,” he said.
Once the target molecule is ready, Tcyrulnikov said that the next step is physical parameterization where he and other members of the group will spend time in the laser lab characterizing the photophysical processes of the molecule. This will help determine if the molecule is a suitable qubit candidate, thus using chemistry in conjunction with physics in quantum information science.
Tcyrulnikov looks through chemical storage to find the compound he needs to run the synthesis reaction. He studied photochemical sciences at Bowling Green State University before coming to Northwestern to join ISEN. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
The vial (right) shows the starting material next to the purified sample (left). The compound needs to be purified before the reaction can proceed. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
The compound is purified via column chromatography and collected into test tubes. Tcyrulnikov came to ISEN because he had read Professor Wasielewski’s research papers and wanted to continue to study photochemistry with a “top level” team. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
Tcyrulnikov checks the consistency of his sample after removing excess liquid using a rotary evaporator. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
The purified compound is a vibrant, orange powder that will be used in the next synthetic steps to create the final product. When hit with light, the target molecule will undergo a series of electron transfer events leading to the formation of a two-qubit system. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
Tcyrulnikov checks his calculations before setting up his synthesis reaction in a fume hood. He said he enjoys this research because it uses well-known organic processes in new applications. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
Tcyrulnikov adds the chemicals to the reaction. The reaction is conducted under inert atmosphere to ensure that no residual air or water interfere. (Photo credit: Emily Little)
The reaction runs in a fume hood with controlled conditions. Tcyrulnikov said that this is just one piece of a much larger process in his research, and he will use the obtained product in the next reaction of a multi-step synthesis. (Photo credit: Emily Little).