College of Science

Clemson chemist Thao Tran receives prestigious Beckman Young Investigator Award


Thao Tran, an assistant professor of chemistry at Clemson University, has received a prestigious 2023 Beckman Young Investigators Award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to support her research in quantum technology.

Tran is one of 11 researchers from across the U.S. selected from a pool of nearly 200 applicants after a three-part review led by a panel of scientific experts. 

She is the first recipient from Clemson University and the first from a college or university in South Carolina.

“I am truly honored to receive the award and have the research program we have built recognized at the national level by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. It is encouraging to have such a prestigious organization recognize that we are emphasizing sound scientific practices and impactful research,” Tran said.

Opening new avenues of research

The Beckman Young Investigators Program supports the country’s most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences, particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments and materials that will open new avenues of research in science.

Tran will receive $600,000 over four years. She will use the grant for her project, “A New Chemical Approach to Quantum Technologies.”

Quantum computers could revolutionize the future of science and technology by using the strange principles of sub-atomic particles to solve complex problems that are beyond the reach of even the best classical computers.

Unlike conventional computers that store information in binary form (1s and 0s), quantum computers store information in multiple forms known as qubits. By leveraging two key phenomena — quantum superposition and entanglement — quantum computers can explore multiple solution pathways simultaneously. 

But qubits are exceedingly fragile and their state is susceptible to perturbations such as environment, defects and room-temperature operations. Those perturbations can cause errors.

“The challenge is how do you retain quantum effects at a macroscopic scale in real material?” she said.

Thao Tran, on right, talks to students gathered around a whiteboard.
Thao Tran, shown here talking to students, was named a Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The award will support her research in quantum technology.

In this project, using the chemical attributes of precision, tunability and reproducibility, Tran’s lab will work to create new materials that can potentially retain quantum effects at a macroscopic scale that is protected from perturbations.

“We want to understand the chemistry and property relationship in quantum materials. Only if we understand the fundamental underlying reasons behind why the materials behave the way they do, can we control them better,” she said. “If we can harness the potential of quantum materials by tuning their structure and behavior, we can help advance quantum technology.”

At the forefront

“Professor Tran and her students are at the forefront of the emerging fields of quantum and multifunctional materials,” said Department of Chemistry Chair William Pennington. “She has made significant contributions to these areas by the design and development of novel inorganic materials with interesting optical, magnetic and electronic properties. Her elegant work has been very effective in solving fundamental challenges in the application of these high-value materials to energy research and in quantum information science.”

Tran joined the Clemson faculty in 2019.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Vietnam National University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Houston. Prior to coming to Clemson, she completed a position as a postdoctoral research associate at the Johns Hopkins University Institute of Quantum Matter.

“I am excited and proud to see Dr. Tran recognized for her accomplishments and potential for future accomplishment as College of Science faculty. She embodies so very well the model of faculty who excel in both scholarship and student learning. Support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation will help her grow in both these areas and continue her development as a top faculty member,” said Stephen Creager, associate dean of the Clemson College of Science.

Tran acknowledged the contributions of her current and former students and the support of the chemistry department, the College of Science and her collaborative partners.

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