A PhD student in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, 2021 Hertz Fellow Nathanael Kazmierczak seeks to encode and process information using individual molecules instead of electronics.
Nathanael's current research uses molecular quantum bits to sense chemical microenvironments, with implications for medicine, catalysis, and energy conversion. He received bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and music from Calvin University in 2020.
On his current research:
My current research project is related to the idea that molecules can somehow store and record and report information about their surroundings. This is a really fascinating project because it enables us to conceive of new quantum technologies that might be able to provide the next generation of technological advance that will be able to overcome some fundamental problems related to understanding chemical microenvironments—the individual molecular compositions that make up the body, that make up certain environments of relevance to chemical reactions, and things of that nature. This is a great frontier.
On the revolution in quantum mechanics:
I think the biggest issue right now in the field of molecular quantum design is precisely understanding how is it that we design a molecule to have the particular quantum mechanical properties that we want it to have? This is sometimes referred to as the second quantum revolution. In the early days of quantum mechanics, it was very much a descriptive theory that sought to describe phenomena in the natural world that did not previously have an explanation, but it was less so a means for actually constructing systems to behave the way you want them to. This is a bit of a paradigm revolution taking place within the field of quantum information science—that not only can we use quantum mechanics to describe the natural world, we can also build and tailor-make systems that have the quantum properties that we want.
On the importance of mentors:
One thing I would mention is the importance of having good mentors in your scientific journey, and the importance of beginning that early, even if you’re an undergraduate student just starting off, getting involved in research, getting involved in the scientific process and learning that thought process. That was truly invaluable for me as an undergraduate at Calvin University. The scientific community formed by the many professors and mentors I had there really instilled in me early on an understanding of what it meant and what it took to do science. If you’re thinking about going into a career in science, don’t wait. Just go ahead and start right away and get involved in the community and meet people who will help you on that journey.