Interview: Dr. Heng Shen, Shanxi University
Hi Heng, we find that you have rich international work experience. Can you tell us about your academic path and your research topics?
After my bachelor’s degree at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, I was recommended for admission to Shanxi University as a postgraduate. Between 2011 and 2015, I pursued my PhD in the laboratory of Prof. Eugene Polzik at the Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen University. My doctoral project was on spin squeezing and entanglement with room-temperature atoms; the aim was to develop a miniaturized quantum atomic magnetometer with sensitivity beyond the standard quantum limit. When I joined the laboratory of Prof. Rainer Blatt at the University of Innsbruck as a postdoc, I shifted my research focus to trapped ions. I worked on quantum chemistry simulations and explored dynamical quantum phase transitions. In 2017 I was awarded the Newton International Fellowship: in the laboratory of Prof. Ian Walmsley at the University of Oxford, I started my current work on quantum state engineering of a hybrid spin-mechanical system, which is highly exploratory.
You have worked overseas for nine years. Have you been collaborating with researchers in China?
Yes I have. Research facilities and the novelty of research in China are catching up. It is a great pleasure to collaborate with colleagues in China and form a team with an interdisciplinary background. Together with Prof. Nanyang Xu and Bing Chen at the Hefei University of Technology, I worked on quantum control and engineering of the electron-nuclear spin of NV centers in diamond. More recently, in the lab of Prof. Yanhong Xiao at Fudan University, we achieved spin squeezing of 100 billion atoms: this sets a new record that increases by three orders the one achieved during my PhD. Thanks to squeezed states, we could go beyond the standard quantum limit by three orders. This result, recently published in Nature, is an important step towards high-precision quantum metrology.
What about returning to China and establishing your own laboratory there?
I have recently moved back to the State Key Laboratory of Quantum Optics and Quantum Optics Devices at Shanxi University. It is a top-notch center for quantum optics, with first-class research facilities and innovative research teams. Work carried out there is at the forefront of research in quantum optics and light-matter interactions. I also chose this institute because I was born and raised in Shanxi; I am familiar with and fond of the local culture and traditions. I will open a laboratory focusing on quantum simulation and computing with trapped ions and cold atoms.
Are you hiring? Will you welcome your first PhD students?
Yes, I am looking for PhD students. I would like PhD applicants to be diligent and self-driven. A solid background in physics is not a must, however, as I majored in optoelectronics and not in physics at university.
When did you start using Zurich Instruments lock-in amplifiers?
During my PhD I used the HF2LI Lock-in Amplifier. It allowed me to measure the quantum fluctuations of the optical field, which is used to reconstruct atomic states. Before adding the HF2LI to our setup, we benchmarked it against a high-frequency lock-in amplifier from another company. On top of a high dynamic reserve of 120 dB, the HF2LI outperformed the other instrument in terms of crosstalk suppression from high-order harmonics. It also offered a wider range when it comes to configuring the low-pass filters. At the time, the MFLI Lock-in Amplifier and the LabOne® control software were not available. In our recent experiment on spin squeezing we used the MFLI and took advantage of LabOne, which offers useful tools such as the built-in data acquisition (DAQ) module. This solution helped us reduce the complexity of our setup.
What are your interests outside of the laboratory?
I like opera, Peking operas, and Shanxi folk music. This interest may seem striking given my age. In Denmark and Austria I had many chances to enjoy high-level performances in the local languages and in Italian: those were terrific visual and vocal experiences. In the lounge room of our group at Copenhagen University there was a piano too, and so we organized a mini opera club. Among my favorite classical Peking operas are traditional ones such as Yu Zhou Feng (Beauty Defies Tyranny) and Suo Lin Nang (The Unicorn Purse). In Austria I also started hiking. Walking up mountains and around alpine lakes is truly refreshing.