Even as a young boy growing up in a small German village right after World War II, Dr. Reinhold Mann was driven by his modest family to soar to great heights.
Mann is among the research scientists leading the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga into the world of quantum technologies in his role as deputy vice chancellor for research.
Another linchpin is Dr. Tian Li, a UTC assistant professor of physics who specializes in experimental quantum optics.
The goal for UTC’s Quantum Initiative is a new quantum optics laboratory to open on campus by late summer. The initiative is led by EPB and Qubitekk, which aim to launch America’s first industry-led, commercially available quantum network using fiber optics. It’s being called EPB Quantum Network powered by Qubitekk.
Mann was born and raised as a single child in a town of 3,500 called Nieder-Olm, six miles from Mainz, to a father who was a tailor and a homemaker mother. They later worked factory jobs.
“My ethos was determined by the postwar years,” he said. “When I was born, what’s referred to as the German Economic Miracle started taking off. I had a strong sense in my family that the more you know, the better off you are. My parents’ generation had a strong sense to impart to their child the strong sense of not making the same mistakes their generation made. That if you apply yourself, the sky’s the limit, you can do well, you need to do better than we did.
“While I did grow up in a lower-income, rural environment, I never felt in any way disadvantaged,” Mann said. “I benefited greatly from my parents and greater family who valued education and culture (the German word is ‘Bildung’). They always made sure that there was no obstacle in my path to get an education more advanced than they were able to obtain. They also instilled in me the benefit from always remembering where I came from. It was a very supportive and nurturing environment in my home and in Nieder-Olm.
“My father did go to Gymnasium [high school] but was unable to finish because of World War II. I remember him spending time with me drilling Latin vocabulary. My parents went the extra kilometer for me to be able to participate in student exchange programs with France to foster mutual understanding of our respective languages and cultures among the post-war generation. My dad did not have a car or driver’s license until I was 11 years old. We didn’t need one. There was the train or bus to get anywhere we needed to go. I never felt that I was missing out on anything. The more I experienced parenting with [my own children] Julia and Jakob, the more I appreciated my parents’ incredible love, wisdom, patience, guidance and unwavering dedication to support me growing up and getting educated.”
Mann completed elementary school and then Gymnasium (a nine-year high school equivalency) that puts graduates on the college track. It earns them a certificate of maturity and eligibility for an international baccealaureate, provided they have a sufficient GPA and get accepted to college.
He focused on English and Latin, then skipped 11th grade, finishing at age 17 with a dream to be a simultaneous interpreter. Then, an uncle who married into the family with a doctorate in chemical engineering invited Mann to spend a week in his lab studying water purification. The uncle suggested Mann study math and physics. In addition, his French teacher cautioned him against interpreting “because you’re trained like a robot.”
The rest, he said, “is history, serendipity.” He finished with a Diplom-Mathematiker degree (equivalent to an M.S. in mathematics), and a Dr. rer. nat. degree (equivalent to a doctorate) in physics from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He was awarded a Feodor-Lynen-Fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, Germany, to do post-doctoral research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1981 and 1982.
Mann retired on June 30, 2014, as associate laboratory director for environmental, biological and computational sciences at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, where he was responsible for research and development programs in biology, biotechnology, climate science, computational science and related fields.
Before joining BNL, Mann was the senior vice president for research and development for Battelle, the world’s largest independent nonprofit applied science and technology organization, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He moved to that position in November 2008 after leading the biological and environmental sciences program at Oak Ridge through a five-year overhaul of research and infrastructure. From 2001 through 2003, Mann was deputy lab director for science and technology, chief research officer and associate lab director for fundamental science at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.
He was appointed UTC deputy vice chancellor for research in July 2018 to strengthen collaborations with the city of Chattanooga and the region. From 2015 until 2017, Mann was interim director of the UTC SimCenter, a center of excellence in applied computational science and engineering.
Mann and his wife have two children: Jakob Mann, who works at Axle Logistics in Knoxville; and Julia Mann, who has a master’s degree in professional writing and is senior editorial specialist at EverCommerce in Atlanta. There is one grandchild, Clair.
The other quantum guru, Dr. Tian Li, joined UTC in August 2022 as an assistant professor of physics after earning a doctorate in physics in 2017 from the Joint Quantum Institute, a venture of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Prior to UTC, Li was an associate research scientist in the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering and the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Texas A&M University.
He specializes in experimental quantum optics.
“My research interests lie primarily in the area of experimental quantum information science and engineering,” Li said. “I use atomic vapor as well as nonlinear optical crystals to generate quantum correlations and entanglement for quantum information, quantum communication and quantum sensing investigations.”
Li was raised in a middle-class family in the city of Urumchi, China, where both parents were engineers. He was a track and field athlete from junior high to his junior year in college before graduating from Beijing Normal University with a bachelor’s in physics. He earned a master’s from University of Nevada and his doctorate from the University of Maryland.
When he’s not teaching students or in the lab advancing the frontiers of quantum optics, he’s trying to master the acoustic guitar and with his wife, Xingchen Wang, enjoying time with their 4-year-old son, Noah.
“Among all the physics subfields, quantum physics is the most fascinating one to me,” he said. “Quantum physics provides the most accurate description of the world around us; it has provided a way to synthesize and simplify the many seemingly disparate processes we encounter. Quantum technologies are transforming communication, computing, information processing and sensing. I would like to extend the impact of these technologies so that they can be beneficial to the general public as well.
“I’m honored to be part of the campuswide Quantum Initiative. Together, we can make UTC a quantum hub in the southeastern part of the United States,” he said.
Quantum sensing, he explained in a prior interview, “is basically measurement using photons” — particles of light. also known as quantums. “We use photons to do the sensing, and quantum sensing is the field of study that uses quantum states of light to develop highly sensitive detectors to measure physical properties such as absorption, temperature, magnetic fields, chemical fields and so on,” Li said.
“I made my decision to come to Chattanooga because the quantum here is one of the strategic plans the whole school [UTC] is trying to push, a place for quantum opportunities,” he said. “I’m really impressed by the scenery of the city; it’s a good place to live and raise a family. I’m extremely happy I made this decision.”