Berkeley Lab

3Q4: Neelay Fruitwala

Neelay Fruitwala

Neelay Fruitwala

Welcome to 3Q4, in which a few questions help us get to know the people behind the science. In this issue we meet Neelay Fruitwala, postdoctoral scholar in the Berkeley Accelerator Controls and Instrumentation (BACI) Program. Fruitwala works with Gang Huang and Yilun Xu on readout and control systems for quantum computing.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Houston, Texas, he came to California to do his undergraduate work at Caltech, then went to the University of California, Santa Barbara for graduate school.

You’ve made quite a subject matter change since grad school—from astrophysics to quantum computing.

I wanted to try something different after my PhD and found an opportunity. After four months here I’m still getting my feet wet, but I’m helping work on a readout and control system for superconducting qubits. The name of the system is QuBIC, and it’s an open-source, FPGA-based control system that Berkeley Lab developed in-house. The Advanced Quantum Testbed uses it as well as a commercial solution. [Link to an article on QuBIC that also appears in this issue]

Although the applications are different, the fundamentals of the technology I’m using are pretty similar. Part of my PhD was on superconducting detector readouts for optical astronomy, so my experience with those electronics translates pretty well to quantum computing systems.

What got you interested in science?
It’s hard to say, because as far back as my memory goes, I always liked science and watched science TV shows. My parents said I was always asking questions! I liked engineering as well, and was always tinkering with things and playing with K’NEX and Legos and so forth, and remember having a half-disassembled VCR on my desk for about a year.

In high school, I did a lot of science extracurriculars that I really enjoyed, like the model rocketry club. We competed to see how close we could come to a target altitude and whether we could land to a target and so forth. I wasn’t a huge math person in elementary school—I found the things we had to do pretty tedious—but once I got into calculus and calculus-based physics in high school, I found that very interesting. So that pushed me toward physics.

Another thing that was a big influence on me was AP computer science. I took that class and just fell in love with it. I felt like I may not have known what I wanted to do, but it would have to have a substantial programming element.

What do you think of being in Berkeley and working in COVID times?
I really like the walkability of the city. When I was in Santa Barbara, I lived in Goleta, which is more of a suburban environment. It was nice, and it was close to the beach and there were a lot of good nature opportunities around, but it wasn’t very walkable.

It’s been a little hard, especially starting out, with so many things primarily remote. Having regular meetings with my supervisor, Gang Huang, just to go over things and ask questions, has been a big thing for me in staying engaged and involved. I’ve been able to come in at least one day a week to do hands-on lab work.