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Robert Jacobberger
September 8, 2022

Focus on new faculty: Robert Jacobberger is designing next-gen electronics with atomic precision

Written By: Jason Daley

Robert Jacobberger is no stranger to the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. He earned his PhD in 2016 working with Michael Arnold, a professor of materials science and engineering, and spent four more years in the lab as a postdoctoral researcher. Now, in fall 2022, he’s joining the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as an assistant professor.

Jacobberger is an expert in 2D materials—materials just one atom thick—that have unique electrical properties. That makes them ideal materials for next-generation electrical devices. “The overarching goal of my group is to develop industry-compatible approaches to engineer 2D materials and devices with nearly atomic precision,” says Jacobberger. “That will enable a high degree of control over their properties as well as their integration into next-gen electronic, optoelectronic and quantum technologies. My research will run anywhere from synthesizing and characterizing new materials to fabricating and measuring devices and circuits.”

A major focus of his group will be using 2D materials to enhance qubits, or quantum bits, which are the basic unit of information in quantum devices. “Quantum technologies are exciting,” Jacobberger says, “because they promise vast improvements in performance over traditional technologies. These improvements include solving certain problems thousands of times faster than state-of-the-art computers, communicating information in a way that cannot be hacked and detecting stimuli with ultra-high sensitivity and resolution.”

His group aims to create arrays of millions of atomically identical qubits, an enormous obstacle that has prevented the full potential of quantum technologies from being realized.

Jacobberger grew up in Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before coming to UW-Madison, where his research focused on synthesizing graphene nanoribbons, or extremely small strips of the 2D material graphene. When the strips are narrow enough, they can be used as transistors that are faster and more energy-efficient than silicon, the material that forms the basis of nearly all modern electronics. Jacobberger made several breakthroughs in synthesizing nanoribbons, which is an extremely difficult task because the ribbons are only a few atoms wide in addition to being only one atom thick. He also worked on integrating the nanoribbons into high-performance nanoelectronics.

After UW-Madison, Jacobberger worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Center for Molecular Quantum Transduction at Northwestern University. There, he worked on designing and manipulating molecular systems that produce qubits using light. “This work is interesting, because if you can generate the qubits with light, it offers a pathway to produce arrays of qubits on demand and at specific locations,” he says. “Those have been major challenges in the field of quantum information science.”

At UW-Madison, he plans to continue these various thrusts, collaborating with colleagues in the Wisconsin Quantum Institute, National Science Foundation-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the Grainger Institute for Engineering. “The most exciting aspect is the potential to develop really strong interdisciplinary collaborations that will help advance existing substantial research efforts at UW-Madison,” he says.

Jacobberger says he’s also excited by the opportunity to teach. His first teaching assignment is ECE 745, a graduate course on solid state electronics, a course he took himself from Patricia and Mike Splinter Professor and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor Irena Knezevic. “She was one of the best professors I’ve ever had, and it was a great experience taking that course from her,” he says. “And now I look forward to being able to teach the same material.