Lila Rodgers, a computer engineering graduate student, was named one of four winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton University’s top honor for graduate students.
The Jacobus Fellows will be honored at Alumni Day ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 25.
The fellowships support the students’ final year of study at Princeton and are awarded to one Ph.D. student in each of the four divisions — humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering — whose work has exhibited the highest scholarly excellence. The fellows all plan to pursue academic careers.
Rodgers, a sixth-year doctoral student in computer engineering who came to Princeton in 2017, earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Brown University in 2016.
Her dissertation, “Engineering highly coherent qubits by correlating surface spectroscopy with quantum measurements” tackled engineering challenges in two different quantum systems: nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds and superconducting qubits. Her work has contributed directly to two very different technologies: quantum computers and quantum sensors.
“Quantum systems promise significant technological advances, but they suffer from significant engineering challenges that prevent us from realizing their full potential,” she said. “My research has focused on improving quantum technologies by correlating materials spectroscopy with quantum measurement.”
Rodgers made several key breakthroughs, leading to three patent applications and multiple first-author papers in major journals, including Nature Communications. Among other projects, she worked to build the world’s first ever confocal microscope inside a cryogenic high vacuum chamber and helped make the first significant breakthrough in superconducting qubit coherence in a decade.
Quantum information is extremely fragile and error prone, lasting for a very short window called the “coherence time.” Since 2012, despite enormous investment in superconducting qubits, no one had been able to lengthen coherence time beyond about 100 microseconds. In collaboration with Andrew Houck and Robert Cava and their research teams, Rodgers was able to triple that to 300 microseconds.
“This has changed the shape of our field,” said Houck, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Many groups around the world have adopted our process, and others have adopted our research methodology.”
“Lila is an excellent experimentalist and a research powerhouse,” said Nathalie de Leon, Rodgers’ adviser and an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “She is fearless in tackling the big, important problems, and she is a broad enough thinker to strategically find these big problems independently.
“She has the instinct to fail quickly and keep up a high attempt rate,” de Leon said. “Lila is especially talented at finding new breakthroughs in interdisciplinary problems, a testament to her ability to be nimble and quick on her feet. She is also a wonderful colleague awarded to one Ph.D. student in each of the four divisions — humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering — whose work has exhibited the highest scholarly excellence. Many of our group members rely on her for technical advice, troubleshooting and brainstorming.”
Rodgers served as a teaching assistant for “Quantum Materials Spectroscopy,” for which she earned the 2021 Teaching Assistant Award. Her other awards include the 2021 School of Engineering and Applied Science Award for Excellence, a 2021 De Beers Diamond Conference Poster Presentation Award, and a 2018 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.
The other Princeton winners of the Jacobus Fellowship are Binyamin “Benny” Kleinman, Jason Molesky, and Mira Nencheva.
Read more about the other winners at this link.