Brian Leeds DeMarco

Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs


Brian Leeds DeMarco

Primary Research Area

  • AMO / Quantum Physics
229 Loomis Laboratory
329 Loomis Laboratory


Professor Brian DeMarco received his B.A. in physics, with a mathematics minor, from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1996, graduating summa cum laude. As an undergraduate researcher, he worked on calibrating and developing neutron detectors for laser driven inertial confinement fusion experiments at the Lab for Laser Energetics.

He earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder (2001), where he extended magnetic trapping and evaporative cooling techniques to create the first quantum degenerate Fermi gas of atoms. This achievement merited Science magazine's imprimatur as one of the top ten scientific discoveries of 1999 and earned DeMarco the first JILA Scientific Achievement Award. In 2002, he received the American Physical Society's Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics Thesis Award.

From 2001-2003, he was a National Research Council postdoctoral research fellow, working with David Wineland at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Boulder) on quantum computing experiments with trapped atomic ions. DeMarco's work with the Ion Storage Group focused on developing improved quantum logic elements and "scaling-up" the complexity of quantum information processing tasks with trapped ions.

Professor DeMarco joined the Department of Physics at Illinois in August 2003. In October 2005, he was among 18 young physics researchers selected as finalists in a global competition to participate in Amazing Light: Visions for Discovery, an international symposium focused on exploring and advancing innovative research in physics and astronomy inspired by, and honoring the leadership and vision of, Charles Townes, winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics. The symposium brought together renowned scholars and researchers, including 20 Nobel laureates, to explore the extraordinary challenges of 21st Century physics and cosmology. DeMarco won first place in the Quantum Physics category for his research aimed at realizing quantum simulation using atoms trapped in an optical lattice.

Prof. DeMarco is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award, ONR Young Investigator award, and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship.

Prof. DeMarco has served on the DAMOP Executive Committee, the review panel for NRC postdoctoral fellowships, the National Research Council Committee on AMO Science (CAMOS), the APS March Meeting and DAMOP program committee, and the APS DAMOP Thesis Prize committee. He currently serves on the APS Davisson-Germer Prize Committee, the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA), and the National Academy of Science Intelligence Science and Technology Experts Group (ISTEG). Prof. DeMarco is currently Chair of the NASA Fundamental Physical Sciences Standing Review Board and was in the 2016-2017 class of the Defense Sciences Study Group.

Research Statement

Prof. DeMarco's research program at the University of Illinois focuses on solving outstanding problems in condensed matter physics using ultra-cold atoms trapped in an optical lattice. This approach, of using one quantum system to emaluate another, is known as quantum simulation and was first proposed as a potentially revolutionary technique by Richard Feynmann. Current research problems being tackled by his team include the properties of the disordered Bose- and Fermi-Hubbard models, thermometry and cooling in strongly correlated lattice systems, and unique states of matter in spin-dependent optical lattices. DeMarco's group was the first identify the cross-over between quantum tunneling and thermal activation of phase slips in an optical lattice (published in Nature), the first to realize 3D Anderson localization of matter (published in Science), and the first to observe many-body localization. His group was also the first to trap atoms in a disordered optical lattice in a regime described by the disordered Bose-Hubbard and disordered Fermi-Hubabrd model.

DeMarco's research has been highlighted on the NSF LiveScience and Discoveries websites. One of his former Ph.D. students also has had a blog with Discover magazine.

Research Honors

  • University of Illinois University Scholar, 2018
  • American Physical Society Fellow, 2015
  • University of Illinois Willett Faculty Scholar Award, 2013
  • University of Illinois College of Engineering Excellence in Research Award, 2012
  • Vestal High School Hall of Fame Inductee, 2012
  • State University of New York at Geneseo Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, 2006
  • Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, 2006
  • 1st prize in Quantum Physics session at the Amazing Light Young Scholars Competition, 2005 ( )
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award, 2005
  • Office of Naval Research Outstanding Young Investigator Award, 2004
  • Michelson Post-doctoral Lectureship Prize, Case Western Reserve University, 2003
  • Atomic, Molecular, or Optical Physics Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award (DAMOP thesis prize), American Physical Society, 2002
  • National Research Council (NRC) post-doctoral fellowship, 2001-2003
  • Science Magazine listed the article Onset of Fermi degeneracy in a trapped atomic gas among the Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 1999

Semesters Ranked Excellent Teacher by Students

Fall 2016PHYS 496
Spring 2016PHYS 496
Fall 2015PHYS 499
Spring 2015PHYS 514
Fall 2014PHYS 485
Spring 2011PHYS 514
Spring 2010PHYS 485
Fall 2008PHYS 485
Fall 2006PHYS 140
Spring 2005PHYS 598
Fall 2004PHYS 102

Selected Articles in Journals

Related news

  • In the Media

“We are reaching the point where we just don’t have the capacity to staff up all our R-and-D efforts,” Dr. DeMarco said, referring to research and development. “There is too much demand in the national labs, too much demand in the private sector and too much demand in academia.”

  • Quantum Information Science

The Grainger College of Engineering’s Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center (IQUIST) will launch a National Science Foundation Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks (HQAN). The collaborative institute spans three Midwest research powerhouses, all of which are members of the Chicago Quantum Exchange: The University of Illinois, University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin. HQAN also includes partnerships with industry and government labs.

Established with a $25 million, five-year NSF award, the HQAN institute will be one of only three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes in the country. Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes will bring together multidisciplinary researchers and diverse partners to advance scientific, technological, and workforce development goals.

  • Events
  • Quantum Information Science

Top experts in quantum technology from around the globe will gather at the University of Chicago on Oct. 25 to discuss the future of quantum information science and strategies to build a quantum workforce.

The second annual Chicago Quantum Summit, hosted by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, will engage scientific and government leaders and the industries that will drive the applications of emerging quantum information science. Speakers include technology leaders at IBM, Intel, Boeing, Applied Materials, Toshiba Research Europe, the University of Waterloo, and the University of New South Wales, Australia, and the Quantum Economic Development Consortium.

  • Partnerships

The Chicago Quantum Exchange, a growing intellectual hub for the research and development of quantum technology, has expanded its community to include new industry partners working at the forefront of quantum technology and research. These corporate partners are Boeing, Applied Materials, Inc., ColdQuanta, Inc., HRL Laboratories LLC and Quantum Opus LLC.

Together, the Chicago Quantum Exchange and its new industry partners will focus on developing a new understanding of the rules of quantum mechanics, leading to breakthroughs in quantum devices, materials and computing techniques.

Based at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the Chicago Quantum Exchange is anchored by the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (both operated for DOE by the University of Chicago), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and includes the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University.