Quantum computing’s ability to fully realize its ground-breaking potential requires the support of an educated and motivated network of researchers, educators, students, programmers and businesses. IBM has been committed to cultivating such a network since making the first cloud accessible quantum computer available to the world in 2016.
We are taking quantum computing out of the lab and putting it in the hands of users worldwide with IBM Quantum Experience, Qiskit, educational events, tutorials, a programming textbook and our annual IBM Quantum Awards competition. Today, we are excited to announce the 2019 IBM Quantum Award winners.
The IBM Quantum Awards give educators, students, and developers the opportunity to show off their skills using IBM Quantum Experience and Qiskit, and to share their knowledge with the growing quantum computing community. This year’s winners competed for $28,000 in prizes across six categories, challenging them to present research, develop games, create online tutorials and propose new circuit designs—all with the goal of advancing quantum science and pushing the limits of today’s quantum computers.
Nick won the $1,500 Quantum Game award for his Quantum Gate Quest, a classic 2D dungeon crawler whose puzzles are powered by IBM’s quantum technology. In Quantum Gate Quest, players are trapped in a maze and to escape must solve quantum gate puzzles and manipulate a qubit to unlock blocked passageways.
“I like writing games because they can engage people more deeply than other media,” says Nick, who develops software and educational games for organizations including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “With Quantum Gate Quest, I wanted to expose the inner workings of quantum computing and make it integral to the game. I wanted the player to learn something about quantum computing in order to win.”
“We really wanted to see educational content in the winning entry,” says James Wootton, a researcher at IBM’s research lab in Zurich and a judge for the Quantum Game award. “You can find the quantum computing principles that Quantum Gate Quest covers in a textbook, but the game teaches the material and visualizes the quantum state in a way that’s fun and interactive.”
Adrian Auer, a quantum physicist and development engineer
Adrian won the $1,500 Teach Me Qiskit award for his Entanglement Purification: The BBPSSW Protocol (“BBPSSW” is named for the authors of the original protocol) tutorial. The six-part lesson provides a comprehensive introduction to Qiskit and IBM Quantum Experience, using entanglement purification as an example. In quantum communications, qubits distributed between parties require a high degree of entanglement, which is diminished as distance increases. “Entanglement purification gives those two parties the recipe for creating enough entanglement to perform quantum communications faithfully,” Adrian says.
The BBPSSW Protocol is one of the first entanglement purification protocols. The tutorial also includes information about composing quantum circuits from single- and two-qubit quantum gates, and explains how to execute those circuits with a few short exercises.
Teach Me Qiskit judges searched for the best interactive, self-paced tutorial that explains a specific focus topic in quantum computing using Qiskit and IBM Quantum Experience. “Adrian tackled a key protocol on recent research, with good figures and Qiskit code,” says Abraham Asfaw, IBM Quantum Education Lead and a Teach Me Qiskit judge. “The tutorial was a nice demonstration of quantum information theory being implemented on real quantum computers. The proposal is new, so it gives confidence to others that they can implement their ideas in the field, too.”
Harrison won the $1,500 Teach Me Qiskit Video award for his three-part tutorial, which provides a practical, hands-on introduction to quantum computer programming. Much of the material Harrison presents comes from his independent study of quantum computing and his trial-and-error explorations of Qiskit. “I approached the video thinking about myself as a newcomer,” he says. “What are the steps that I need to take to get to an end objective? What are the questions that most people would ask along the way?” Looking ahead, Harrison wants to better understand how quantum computers could be used for machine learning.
Judges were looking for the best video presentation on a specific quantum computing topic with an interactive tutorial using Qiskit and IBM Quantum Experience. Abraham Asfaw proposed the category after the success of the Qiskit team’s own Coding With Qiskit video series and other tutorials posted to GitHub. “We noticed the useful videos people were posting in GitHub, encouraging people to try programming a quantum computer,” Abraham says.
“Harrison’s videos stood out as an example of genuine discovery of the process of programming with Qiskit, while also teaching—something that’s very hard to do,” Abraham says. “Harrison’s focus on Python is also really useful and helpful to other developers—both those familiar with Python, but not Qiskit, as well as those new to Python, because of how he takes the viewer through a program, step by step.”
Davide Ferrari, PhD student in Information Technologies, Department of Engineering and Architecture, Quantum Information Science at UniPr, University of Parma, Italy
Davide won the $4,000 Developer Challenge: Circuit Optimization award for his quantum computing compiler. A compiler is used to translate a programmer’s code—C, for example, on a classical computer—into machine language that the computer can execute. In quantum, a circuit is comprised of a quantum computer’s qubits and the operations applied to them. In today’s noisy quantum computers, qubits can perform only a limited number of operations before they decohere, or lose their quantum state.
Efficiency is particularly important in quantum computing because, in addition to the problem of decoherence, each operation a system performs introduces error into its calculations—the fewer operations, the better the outcome. Davide implemented a general-purpose noise-aware compiler with the ability to efficiently target recurrent circuit patterns.
“I was first introduced to the quantum compilation problem as part of an assignment for a course on high performance computing,” Davide says. “The assignment allowed me to experiment with a different way to more efficiently compile a particular quantum circuit. I was interested to see if I could find a solution that wasn’t for a particular circuit but was more general.”
The Developer Challenge: Circuit Optimization category sought to encourage programmers to create an optimizer that could minimize noise and improve the performance of quantum computing circuits. “I was quite impressed that Davide used the Qiskit architecture not just correctly but exactly as we intended it to be used,” says IBM researcher and judge Luciano Bello. “He showed a very good understanding of Qiskit’s design, for example, by using his own work to extend the passes we already make available to quantum circuit developers.” A pass refers to the traversal of a compiler through an entire computer program.
Davide was also upfront about the limitations of his solution, according to Bello. “He outlined very specific scenarios in which his optimizations will work better than what’s already available, which is fine because it would be hard to optimize for every scenario,” Bello says. “It was helpful to know exactly where he intended his solution to be applied.”
Will Zeng, Head of Quantum Research, Goldman Sachs
IBM Quantum Best Paper
1st Prize Winner: “Minimizing State Preparations in Variational Quantum Eigensolver by Partitioning into Commuting Families”
Pranav Gokhale, Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago
Olivia Angiuli, Department of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley
Yongshan Ding, Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago
Kaiwen Gui, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago
Teague Tomesh, Argonne National Laboratory and Department of Computer Science, Princeton University
Martin Suchara, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory
Margaret Martonosi, Department of Computer Science, Princeton University
Frederic T. Chong, Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University and Argonne National Laboratory won the $2,500 first-place award for Best Paper. Their research, “Minimizing State Preparations in Variational Quantum Eigensolver (VQE) by Partitioning into Commuting Families,” used one of IBM’s commercial 20-qubit quantum computing system to examine how the VQE quantum algorithm could improve the ability of current and near-term quantum computers to solve highly complex problems, such as finding the ground state energy of a molecule, which the authors refer to as a “killer app” for quantum computing.
Quantum computers are expected to perform complex calculations in chemistry, cryptography and other fields that are prohibitively slow or even impossible for classical computers. A significant gap remains, however, between the capabilities of today’s quantum computers and the algorithms proposed by computational theorists. “VQE can perform some pretty complicated chemical simulations in just 1,000 or even 10,000 operations, which is good,” Gokhale says. “The downside is that VQE requires millions, even tens of millions, of measurements, which is what our research seeks to correct by exploring the possibility of doing multiple measurements simultaneously.”
2nd Prize Winner: “Bell Diagonal and Werner state generation: entanglement, non-locality, steering and discord on the IBM quantum computer”
Elias Riedel Gårding, EPFL
Nicolas Schwaller, EPFL
Su Yeon Chang, EPFL
Samuel Bosch, EPFL
Willy Robert Laborde, EPFL
Javier Naya Hernandez, EPFL
Xinyu Si, EPFL
Marc-André Dupertuis, EPFL, Institute of Physics, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Chun Lam Chan, EPFL
Frédéric Gessler, EPFL
Nicolas Macris, EPFL, Information Processing Group, School of Computer and Communication Sciences (EPFL)
An interdisciplinary team of students and researchers from the Institute of Physics and the School of Computer and Communication Science, at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) took the $1,500 second prize for their paper, “Bell Diagonal and Werner state generation: entanglement, non-locality, steering and discord on the IBM quantum computer.” The research uses an IBM quantum computer to explore parts of quantum information theory, notably the nature of quantum correlations, that are not well understood. “Our work provides a concrete way to realize abstract concepts in quantum information and communication,” says co-author Elias Riedel Gårding. “We provide a bridge between theoretical quantum information and practical implementation.”
The Best Paper award went to the highest-impact scientific papers by master’s degree or PhD students or postdoctoral researchers that used IBM Quantum Experience and Qiskit to achieve the paper’s results.
Javad Shabani, Assistant Professor of Physics, New York University
Teach Me Quantum
1st Prize Winners: Open Quantum Systems with Qiskit
Boris Sokolov, Doctoral Student, Theoretical Physics, University of Turku, Finland
Guillermo Garcia-Pérez, Postdoctoral Researcher, Theoretical Physics, University of Turku
Matteo Rossi, Postdoctoral Researcher, Theoretical Physics, University of Turku
Daria Anttila, Doctoral Student, Theoretical Physics, University of Turku
A team of theoretical physicists from the University of Turku in Finland earned the $8,000 first-place Teach Me Quantum prize for its Open Quantum Systems with Qiskit tutorial. The researchers derived their winning entry from a course that postdoctoral researchers Guillermo Garcia-Pérez and Matteo Rossi taught to masters and PhD students in the spring of 2019. The hands-on course required students to use Qiskit and an actual quantum computer to write and execute code simulating open quantum systems dynamics, which includes noise and other environmental factors. “For physicists, it’s important to be able to simulate quantum systems if we are to understand them,” Garcia Perez says. “Unlike classical computers, quantum computers are naturally suited to perform these simulations.”
Researchers from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi (IIITD), won the $4,000 second-place prize for their Lectures on Quantum Computing curriculum. The IIITD team sought to create a holistic quantum computing course that caters to the needs of students with a variety of backgrounds. The course’s first nine weeks are compulsory, with two additional weeks of material covering quantum hardware and cryptography specifically designed for people with backgrounds in physics/chemistry or mathematics/computer science, respectively.
New York University researchers captured the $2,000 third prize with their tutorial. Quantum Computing With Noisy Qubits offers a challenging course for people with advanced knowledge of quantum mechanics to better understand how the science maps to existing and near-term quantum computing technology. “We want people to think realistically about noisy systems,” says Javad Shabani, Shabani Lab principal investigator. “That’s the missing gap I wanted to fill—how can you navigate the reality of quantum computing as it exists today?”
Teach Me Quantum participants were asked to produce university-level course-materials for a lecture series using IBM Quantum Experience and Qiskit as a tool to explain quantum information science topics. Lessons were required to occupy students for two hours per week over at least 10 weeks and include tutorial materials with exercises and solutions requiring students to solve, at least partially, problems using IBM Quantum Experience and Qiskit Python or Jupyter notebooks.
“The Teach Me Quantum category offers a new approach to quantum mechanics education that can go from modules to full courses,” says Prineha Narang, a judge and Harvard University assistant professor of computational materials science. The Open Quantum Systems with Qiskit tutorial allows students a broad view of how to think about computing with quantum. The lessons could be used in a theoretical chemistry course to design calculations that could be run on a real device. The third prize winner, Quantum Computing With Noisy Qubits, “makes something that’s not sexy—noise—and creates an interesting way to learn about and actually use noise to benefit experiments,” she says.
“The second place winner is a straightforward quantum course and can be easily integrated into existing courses,” says James D. Whitfield, a judge and an assistant professor of physics at Dartmouth College. “All three courses, through their use of Qiskit, help students bridge the gap from theory to practice and to realize that quantum computing isn’t a coming technology but is already here.”
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.