Dr Earl Campbell

PhD

Earl Campbell

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Job title: Research Fellow
Division: Department of Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Tags: Fellowship: Early Career Fellowship, University of Sheffield
Related theme: Quantum technologies

Biography

My PhD on quantum computing theory began in 2005 at Oxford University. In 2008, the Royal Commission of 1851 awarded me a fellowship based at University College London.  From 2010, I held research posts at the University of Potsdam, the Free University of Berlin, and the University of Sheffield.

My Fellowship

As a kid, I loved science fiction and fantasy, and wanted to be either a scientist or a wizard. Every week my grandfather gave me a jar of pennies, which I treasured away until at 7 I had enough to buy a ZX spectrum computer. I wrote basic computer programs, which I fondly remember saving onto magnetic cassettes, the only memory it had.

I became interested in Physics and how the future is governed by a few laws of nature. It reminded me of computing, except I was glimpsing the universe's code. This ended when I learnt about quantum physics. The future was random. On small scales, the world wasn't bits of data, ones and zero's, but could only described by wavefunctions, superpositions and entanglement. It all seemed magical, and destroyed any worldview comparing the universe to computers.

Later at Bristol university, I read in New Scientist magazine about quantum computers. If the language of the universe was wavefunctions, why not program in that language. It was incomprehensible genius!

A PhD opportunity came up in Oxford, and I jumped at the chance to help design quantum computers. Our biggest obstacle is that, unlike those old magnetic cassettes, quantum memories aren't stable, and rapidly degrade. Yet quantum information can be preserved by careful and regular intervention, like spinning a plate keeps it stable on the tip of stick. As an EPSRC fellow, I'm pulling together ideas from topology, coding theory, and quantum physics, to design reliable quantum computers with longlife memories.

Motivation to Apply

I wanted the independence and resources to tackle the theoretical problems that I believe are most important to building a quantum computer. Namely, developing effective and practical methods of making quantum computers tolerant to faults and imperfections. Despite substantial UK investment in quantum technologies, the UK had no coordinated effort for addressing this design problem. An EPSRC early career fellowship offered the best way for me to start my own independent research group that focuses on these problems.

Career benefits of Fellowship

The EPSRC fellowship has provided a spring board for me to go from a postdoctorate within a group to leading my own group. I think becoming a group leader may well be the most important stepping stone in a researcher career, and a fellowship is invaluable when making that transition.

Advice for future applicants

It is essential to have a clear vision for your research plan and how it fits into the wider landscape. Start thinking about your application as soon as possible, long before the deadline, and frequently discuss yours ideas with your peers.