Dr. Philip Feng, ECE professor and associate chair for research, has been named as the inaugural Walden C. Rhines Endowed Professor for Quantum Engineering. The endowment will support Dr. Feng’s research program, focused on quantum engineering with novel materials and devices, and transducers (including nanoelectromechanical systems, or NEMS). With the support of the endowment, Feng intends to continue his work bridging the quantum and classical worlds, as well as to catalyze the creation of the Florida Quantum Initiative (FQI).
Created by Dr. Walden Rhines, CEO of Cornami, Inc., the endowment will support both Dr. Feng’s research and the department’s vision of making the University of Florida (UF) a hub for research and development in the area of quantum engineering. Dr. Rhines’ connection with UF is a deep one—his father, Frederick Rhines, was the founder of UF’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Dr. Rhines grew up in Gainesville, and despite his many years elsewhere, his heart remains firmly rooted in Gainesville. His love of Gainesville is evidenced by the support which the Rhines Foundation provides around UF. At the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the foundation supports the Frederick N. Rhines Professorship and two Rhines Rising Star Faculty Development Funds, the Larry Hench Fund and the Robert DeHoff Fund. For ECE Florida, the foundation supports the Walden and Paula Rhines Professorship in Semiconductor Photonics as well as the Walden C. Rhines Professorship in Quantum Computing.
“We are beyond excited about this major endowment—Phil’s deep experience in quantum, NEMS, advanced materials and device physics, combined with Wally’s support and visionary leadership, will transform UF into a quantum engineering hub that will inspire the nation.”
–Dr. Mark Tehranipoor
ECE Department Chair
Why Quantum Engineering?
Dr. Rhines, in a sense, came to quantum computing via fully homomorphic encryption, a technology at the heart of Cornami, Inc., where Rhines has been CEO since 2020. Homomorphic encryption is a form of encryption that allows computations to be performed on encrypted data without first having to decrypt it. Rhines’ interest in quantum computing stemmed from the common supposition, first posited in 1991, that large-scale quantum computers would be able to break widely-used current encryption schemes. Rhines sees quantum computing not as a cure-all, but as an interesting tool that will grow in its applications. Asked why he has thrown his support behind quantum engineering, he replies, ‘You need to place bets in a number of these areas as they emerge and then focus and specialize. And the University of Florida has been exceptionally good at this.”
“With the creation of the Florida Quantum Initiative, ECE Florida is well-positioned to play a critical role in quantum research and workforce development in Florida and in the nation. Dr. Rhines’ generous support will help catalyze and enable new possibilities and growth in related frontiers and I’m sure it will have national and international impact. I’m honored and humbled by this endowment. Many thanks to Wally for his generous support and his inspiring vision of growing the cross-college activities in quantum information science and engineering at UF.”
–Dr. Philip Feng
A History of Innovation
Dr. Rhines has a long history of making early bets on emerging technologies and seeing them pay off mightily. While still at Stanford, Rhines invented (and received a patent for) the magnesium-doped gallium nitride blue LED. While at Texas Instruments (TI) from 1972 to 1993, he led the semiconductor group and the data systems group and supervised the creation of the TMS320 digital signal processor (DSP). This early move into DSPs was critical for TI, eventually becoming more than half of their entire business. While CEO of Mentor Graphics, beginning in 1993, Rhines pushed the company to focus on a few areas where he saw real opportunity, including physical verification. The sector eventually became half of the company’s business. Mentor was eventually acquired by Siemens for $4.5B. Rhines joined Cornami as CEO in 2020.
Pursuing Quantum engineering
Dr. Feng has been interested in engineering nanoscale devices toward the quantum regime since during his graduate study at Caltech, where many important concepts—including quantum computation, LIGO, quantum NEMS and optomechanics—were pioneered. In research, Feng and his advisees have focused on emerging solid-state devices and integrated nanosystems, especially those enabled by advanced semiconductors (such as silicon carbide and III-nitrides), atomically-thin materials and their heterostructures, to engineer coherent information transduction schemes and device platforms in both classical and quantum regimes.
Feng first built a cross-college team to propose a Quantum Engineering Initiative as part of the UF Moonshot program. He has also led or co-led various multi-disciplinary, multi-university quantum engineering projects, including in the NSF Quantum Leap and quantum-inspired computing programs (e.g. EFRI-ACQUIRE, QuSeC-TAQS). He also leads multi-university DARPA-funded and other projects to advance quantum-limited transduction and sensing. Toward quantum engineering education, Feng has developed a new course to introduce the fundamentals of quantum hardware to both undergraduate and graduate students in engineering majors. He is currently leading an NSF team project on quantum engineering education.
Feng’s earlier research in some of these thrusts were recognized by the NAE Grainger Frontiers of Engineering award and the PECASE award, among others. He was also recognized by his previous institution, Case Western Reserve University, for “dedication, support and commitment to programs for the success of students.” Feng is also a graduate faculty in the Department of Physics at UF. Lately, along with other UF colleagues, Feng has been working with researchers for FSU, UCF, FIU, UNF, and other Florida institutions, toward building critical mass, new capabilities, industry partnerships, and international collaborations in quantum information science and engineering.