Department Contact Information

Physics Department

Location: 180-204
Phone: (805) 619-5106
Fax: (805) 756-2435
Chair: Karl Saunders

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Katharina Gillen

Katharina Gillen


Office: 180-615
Phone: 805.756.2199


  • Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2005
  • M.S., The Ohio State University, 2000
  • Vordiplom, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn, 1998

Research Interests

  • Optics
  • Atomic Physics
  • Quantum Computing


My mission:

Guide students to success through teaching, research, advising, and mentoring. Physics, like all sciences, requires different perspectives to progress and thrive. I strive to be an ally to marginalized people and to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in my classes, research group, department, and discipline.

What I have been up to: CV

My field of expertise: Neutral atom quantum computing (involves atomic physics, optics, and quantum information science)


This is my passion. I have taught classes throughout the physics curriculum: PHYS 13X/141 series (General Physics), PHYS 211/212 (Modern Physics 1/2), PHYS 322 (Vibrations and Waves), PHYS 315 (Lasers), PHYS 323 (Optics), and PHYS 423 (Advanced Optics). I also offer an independent study class (PHYS 400 (graded)/PHYS 404 (CR/NC)) on quantum computing and trapping atoms every Spring. Interested in quantum information, but not so much the details of atom trapping? No problem – the class can be customized to meet your needs. Email me to find out more.


My research field is neutral atom quantum computing. Specifically, within this field, I work on identifying and testing light patterns that could be useful for trapping atoms for quantum computing and other quantum information applications. I have an experimental research lab using lasers to cool and trap atoms at temperatures ~100 microkelvin from absolute zero to get them ready to be held by pure light patterns for quantum computing. I also have computational projects to calculate the properties of various light patterns for use as atom traps, and theoretical projects learning how to implement quantum algorithms on a quantum computer that can perform single and two-qubit gates. All of my projects are centered around undergraduate students. You can work with me for course credit (PHYS 200/400/404 (Independent Study), PHYS 461/462 (Senior Project)) during the academic year. Please email me if you would like to learn more! Find out the details of my work on my research group webpage.

Professional network:

We are proud to be a node of the Southwest Quantum Information and Technology Network (SQuInT), a (now) global network of research universities, national labs, industry, and teaching universities. We meet once a year for our annual workshop to learn about each other's work and exchange ideas. We are grateful for receiving travel support for our undergraduate students to attend and present their work at this meeting.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Physics Diversity and Inclusivity committee:

I have been a member of this committee since its inception in 2017. We work towards inclusion and diversity in our department through organizing faculty training, providing resources to faculty for learning about and becoming active in support of DEI, working towards more equitable research practices, spreading the word about issues of DEI to all students, faculty, and staff in our department, and more. If you experience or observe anything that makes you or someone else feel uncomfortable in our department, please let someone you trust know. Not sure who to talk to? You are welcome to contact me!

APS-IDEA network:

The Cal Poly Physics department joined the American Physical Society Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Alliance (APS-IDEA) in 2020. This network gives us access to expert resources nationwide, specifically geared towards physics, as well as training in best practices, such as shared governance, and tools for implementing transformative change. I currently serve as our team leader, coordinating our work.

Cal Poly Women in Physics Club:

This club supports gender equity and diversity in our department and discipline. We hold various social and activity events throughout the year - a great opportunity to meet and get to know physics students, faculty, and staff and build a strong support network. I am currently the faculty advisor. If you would like to join the club, please email me and I will put you on our email list. For more information on the club, please check out our club website.

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