Lana Doroshevich Kept Her Summer Cool With Quantum Computers
It may have been a hot summer in New York City, but Lana Doroshevich kept cool in Boulder, Colorado, with quantum equipment that chills the materials inside down to just a few degrees above absolute zero.
Doroshevich, a 32-year-old Columbia University School of General Studies student getting ready for her senior year, was part of this summer’s Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center (SQMS) Quantum Undergraduate Internship program. The SQMS, led by Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, is one of five U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored national quantum research centers established as part of the National Quantum Initiative.
Learn More About the Origins of the National Quantum Initiative
For her internship, Doroshevich spent 10 weeks in Corey Rae McRae’s lab at the University of Colorado Boulder working with dilution refrigerators, which are critical pieces of cryogenic equipment for testing the components of quantum computers.
“Lana was an active, productive, and capable contributor to my lab this summer. Her enthusiasm for superconducting quantum device research was evident throughout her time at CU Boulder—from helping to install hundreds of pounds of dilution refrigerator equipment to assembling microwave packaging for microscale quantum devices, and even performing radio frequency measurements of these cryogenically cooled devices and analyzing the data for our collaborators at Northwestern University, Rigetti Computing, and Fermilab,” said McRae. “Lana has a long and successful career ahead of her as a researcher in whatever discipline she chooses. We hope to work with her again!”
As Doroshevich gears up for the fall semester, she shared her enthusiasm about quantum science and what she learned in Colorado.
Before we get to Colorado, how did you get to Columbia?
I am originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, where I studied to become a manager of a large machinery factory—I’m not sure what my 17-year-old self was thinking!
I moved to the United States a few years ago and worked some odd jobs: I was a waitress, a hostess, a dog walker on the Lower East Side. But I’ve always been interested in math, and I read a lot of physics books. I decided I wanted to make physics my profession instead of just my passion.
I enrolled at Bergen Community College, which has a really strong STEM program, and then transferred to the School of General Studies two years ago.
How was the transition?
It has ended up being the best decision, but at the time I was really unsure of myself. It felt like all my classmates were so far ahead of me, and the first year was tough—especially since it was all over Zoom.
But I’ve found a really strong support system and now feel like I belong. My husband, who I met in Brooklyn and who pushed me to make the initial leap back to school, never lets me doubt myself. I’ve also had professors at Columbia who really uplifted me—in particular, Professors Szabolcs Marka, Sebastian Will, and William Zajc, who all happen to be involved with quantum research.
What makes quantum so interesting to you?
The physicist Richard Feynman said it best: “Nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you'd better make it quantum mechanical.” That resonated. Classical physics is full of approximations, which are great, but I’m excited by the idea that something like a quantum computer might someday help us fully understand nature.
And that took you to Colorado?
I actually applied to every quantum internship I could find on Google, but the SQMS program was my first choice!
How was the experience?
It was the most amazing 10 weeks of my life. I arrived early, while Dr. McRae was actually in the middle of moving her lab space. I got to help rebuild all the equipment and learn about machines and techniques that you don’t really encounter in textbooks but are key parts of a research lab.
That included helping to set up the dilution refrigerator, which is fascinating. It’s an approximately $600,000 piece of equipment that cools superconducting quantum bits (qubits), which are the computational components of quantum computers, down to just a few milliKelvin.
Why do researchers need these expensive fridges?
Qubits are prone to errors. Noise from the environment and interference from the materials that quantum computers are built from can cause qubits to unintentionally lose the quantum properties that give them their computational advantage over the traditional binary units, or bits, in classic computers.
Understanding unexpected qubit errors is an issue quantum researchers are currently grappling with. By minimizing any temperature effects using a dilution refrigerator, you are left with just quantum mechanics to consider.
What projects did you work on?
I helped test these devices called superconducting resonators, which can help us understand qubits by revealing how error-prone different materials and fabrication methods are.
With my fellow intern, Kyle Thompson from Colorado Mesa University, I also studied infrared filters. These are filters that you put inside the refrigerator that remove photons that can disturb qubits.
Are these things hard to study?
Very! The resonators are tiny: just 7.5 by 7.5 millimeters. They came with a protective layer on them that takes a lot of time to clean and package properly before you can add them to the dilution refrigerator. Meanwhile, the fridge operates under extreme temperatures and with lots of controls.
Quantum systems are just so small and fragile—a lot can go wrong, and it’s difficult to replicate experiments.
How did the experiments go?
We spent a month reconstructing the dilution refrigerator and the lab, so there was only time for two cooldowns—it takes a few days for the temperatures to drop—to test the resonators before the end of my internship.
The first cooldown worked, which gave us some nice data we could share with Northwestern and Rigetti, which both worked on making the resonator. The second cooldown … didn’t. We disturbed something in the system and it didn’t get cold enough to run the tests.
What was your favorite part?
Loading up the refrigerator to start the cooldown. The whole lab comes together for that. We’d work until 7:00, go grab pizza, and then some of us would come back at 10:00 to finish the process. It was a really nice bonding experience.
So you are sold on quantum physics?
I am! But really, on research. There’s nothing more rewarding. At Bergen, I helped write code that told a high-altitude balloon when to deploy its payload. I did some materials research, and last summer at Princeton, I got to help figure out how accretion discs are able to form stars and black holes. You just learn so much when you are working hands on.
I hope to continue on to graduate school in quantum science after this year but ultimately, I want to end up in a research lab. I love the team environment and learning from others. The inspiration to try new things comes from discussions—you can’t be closed off in your own little world.
What’s your world outside of science?
I’ve been running long-distance and am training for the New York City marathon this fall. And I volunteer at an animal shelter. I feel like I’m doing something good for the world there, and get to be part of the community.
Any advice for others?
It’s something I always tell myself: be proud of your own path. The struggles, the fear, the excitement, it’s all yours.