On 21 November, 20 students from across Switzerland who are members of the European Physical Society, visited IBM Research – Zurich for an opportunity to experiment with qubits using the IBM Quantum Experience.
“The IBM Quantum Experience will make it easier for researchers and the scientific community to accelerate innovations in the quantum field, and help discover new applications for this technology,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director at IBM Research in May, when the company announced public access, via the cloud, to its 5 qubit processor.
EPS president Rossel kicks off the day
One retired IBM scientist took this statement as a call to action. Christophe Rossel, who spent 27 years at IBM’s Zurich lab, is now the president of the European Physics Society (EPS), which is partly responsible for inspiring and building up a new generation of scientists across Europe.
“When I heard about the IBM Quantum Experience I knew that it would be a great opportunity to introduce some of Europe’s best and brightest to the promise of the quantum world,” said Rossel. “In a matter of weeks we pulled together an agenda and sent out an invite to ourEPS Young Minds members and we were overwhelmed with registrations.”
A few weeks ago IBM’s Zurich lab hosted the nearly two dozen physics students from the top scientific institutions in Switzerland, including ETH Zurich, Paul Scherrer Institute, EPFL, University of Bern and the University of Basel.
After an introduction to the quantum world, IBM scientists Stefan Filipp, Andreas Fuhrer, Ivano Tavernelli, Gian Salis and Nikolaj Moll, put the students to work with a series of experiments designed to leverage the 5 qubit IBM Quantum Experience system. The teams got acquainted with the quantum composer, the graphical user interface for programming the qubits, and writing their own quantum algorithms, before presenting their results (see video).
“We prepared for the students several very challenging exercises which they quickly grasped, despite lacking a background in quantum mechanics, said Moll. “A few teams worked on the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, whereas other teams worked on the more ambitious application side, as for example the Grover search algorithm or simulating the hydrogen molecule. It was impressive to see.”
Since the event ended Rossel has received some very positive comments from the students:
“I especially appreciated the varied design of the day as well as the elaborately made tutorials. Also the lectures in the morning were very helpful for the understanding, especially the technical when one comes from a completely different area,” said Sacha Schwarz, University of Bern.
“Again thank you for this visit which was really exciting and led by passionate researchers. If other visits are possible, we would be pleased to participate,” said Bruno Rigal, EPFL.
Moll adds, “If we want to reach 50 qubits in the next few years we don’t have a second to spare, but clearly without building up a quantum ecosystem in advance we won’t have any users for such a system. So both research and community building need to be done in parallel, it’s not either/or, it’s both.”
The need for a future workforce with a robust set of quantum computing skills drives our support for Q2Work, the National Science Foundation-funded initiative led by the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago to provide quantum education, programs, tools, and curricula to K-12 students.
When we began our current line of investigation, the goal was to study the structural property of the Clifford group, describing a set of transformations that generate entanglement, play an important role in quantum computing error correction, and are used in (randomized) benchmarking. In a series of one-thing-leads-to-another findings, however, we ended up discovering a new mathematical proof of quantum advantage – the elusive threshold at which quantum computers outperform classical machines in certain use cases.
The ability to harness quantum-mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform computation obviously poses a number of difficulties. Add in the need to make these systems perform meaningful work, and you’ve raised the stakes considerably. Creating a pipeline of talented, well-trained academics and professionals who can meet those challenges was the subject of IBM’s July 28 virtual roundtable, “How to Build a Quantum Workforce.” Watch the replay, here.