Most scientists rely on tools and machines to test ideas and make novel discoveries, but they don’t always know how to install or maintain them. Facilities engineers, like Edward Schmitt of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, play a critical role in advancing scientific discoveries. Over the past 17 years, Schmitt has maintained equipment and installed devices for materials scientists. Now, he’s establishing new infrastructure and systems to propel research in quantum information science.
Quantum information scientists are eager to improve the way we process, store, sense and communicate information. Q-NEXT is a U.S. DOE National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by Argonne that brings together 100 experts in quantum information science from three national laboratories, 10 universities and 14 technology companies.
“We’re working to make a high-precision, high-efficiency and high-quality workspace.” — Ed Schmitt, facilities engineer
“Q-NEXT is working to make qubits, which are like quantum computer building blocks,” Schmitt said.
In April 2022, Q-NEXT established the Argonne Quantum Foundry to facilitate the development of qubits and materials for quantum devices and next-generation technologies. Schmitt, who became the research facility engineer at the Argonne Quantum Foundry in May 2023, has provided immense support for this effort.
“Along with learning how to install a piece of equipment, I have to learn how to operate it and teach other people how to use it,” he said.
In his short time at the foundry, Schmitt has already shown himself to be a powerhouse in equipment installation and operation. So far, he has installed a deposition tool for growing diamond, a polishing tool to prepare the material, and high-temperature furnaces for activating the qubits and modifying a material’s chemical or physical properties. Schmitt also helped develop a fabrication shop with a 3D printer, soldering station and a computer numerical control machine. The latter is for quickly manufacturing prototypes, building electronics, or designing and fabricating unique custom parts that aren’t readily available.
To install and operate this type of equipment, Schmitt often pores over user manuals and digs into the foundry’s walls and floors to add chilled water lines, manage electrical wiring, and ensure there’s adequate pressure going to the instruments.
“We’ve been getting the custom utilities hooked up and the instrumentation installation going,” Schmitt said. “We’re working to make a high-precision, high-efficiency and high-quality workspace.”
It’s a monumental effort, and Schmitt’s work ensures that the Argonne Quantum Foundry remains at the forefront of quantum information science and engineering.
Becoming the research facility engineer at the Argonne Quantum Foundry has given Schmitt a chance to tackle not only technical challenges, but also scientific ones. Now, he investigates Q-NEXT’S scientific projects and contributes to discussions about which tools and machines to purchase. Schmitt is also keen to figure out how to make the foundry’s operations more efficient and scalable.
Before joining Argonne in 2007, Schmitt was a communications electronics technician for the United States Marine Corps. When he returned home after serving from 2001 to 2006, he applied for a job at Argonne to work on security alarm systems, fire alarm systems and radio systems.
“That’s how I got my foot in the door,” he said.
Ten years later, Schmitt co-founded the Argonne Veterans Employee Resource Group to bring awareness and provide resources to veterans and their families and friends.
“You don’t have to be a veteran to be part of the veterans group. Any employee of Argonne is welcome to join,” Schmitt said.
The group hosts events, food drives and fundraising efforts. Schmitt says one of his proudest accomplishments is raising money to provide a service animal for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder through an organization called K9s for Veterans.
“The impact service animals have on veterans is amazing. It changes their life. To be able to help someone in that way is pretty incredible,” he said.
Q-NEXT is a U.S. Department of Energy National Quantum Information Science Research Center led by Argonne National Laboratory. Q-NEXT brings together world-class researchers from national laboratories, universities and U.S. technology companies with the goal of developing the science and technology to control and distribute quantum information. Q-NEXT collaborators and institutions have established two national foundries for quantum materials and devices, develop networks of sensors and secure communications systems, establish simulation and network test beds, and train the next-generation quantum-ready workforce to ensure continued U.S. scientific and economic leadership in this rapidly advancing field. For more information, visit https://q-next.org/.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.