Dr Rose Ahlefeldt

ANU Physicist awarded 2018 ACT Scientist of the Year

Friday, 10 August: Dr. Rose Ahlefeldt is the recipient of the 2018 ACT Scientist of the Year.

Dr. Rose Ahlefeldt is a Research Fellow at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering. She graduated from ANU with a PhD in Solid State Physics in 2013, and returned to ANU after visiting France and the United States as a Fulbright Scholar.

The first ACT Scientist of the Year was presented in 2015. The awards aims to recognise excellence in scientific research and innovation in the ACT, and to inspire young people to consider a career in STEM. The award is accompanied by a $30,000 prize money.

Dr. Rose Ahlefeldt studies the optical spectroscopy of rare-earth crystals and their application in making high-performance quantum memories.

“I like working with quantum memories because I get to apply fundamental understanding of materials to real world problems, and possibly develop new technologies for the future.”

Researchers have been working on quantum memories for over a decade. Storing quantum information for even 1/1000 seconds has proven to be a challenging task. But quantum internet is feasible only if photons can be stored and released for at least 1/10 seconds.

Dr. Rose Ahlefeldt has been part of a team led by Associate Professor Matthew Sellars. They discovered that a large magnetic field can improve the quantum storage time of erbium crystals by a factor of 10,000 to more than one second. Last year, their findings were published in Nature Physics.

Erbium is one of the seventeen rare-earth metals. It is the only element that can absorb and emit light at the telecommunications wavelength of 1,550 nanometres.

“We had this idea 10 years ago, but many of our peers told us that such a simple idea couldn’t work. Seeing this result, it feels great to know that our approach was the right one.” said Sellars.

The findings suggests hope for building global networks for quantum computers to reach their full potentials.

Researchers have already identified several applications of quantum computers, including secure networks, artificial intelligence, and new drugs.

When asked about her advice for young people considering a career in science, Dr. Rose Ahlefeldt said it starts with “curiosity about some aspect of the world”.

“As a child, I enjoyed building things and spent a lot of time in my dad’s garage making stuff. Thinking creatively about the world and building things are actually the sort of skills I use today.”

“Do what you’re interested in, follow the things you find exciting, and let that take you into whatever you can find.”