Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing Education Must Reach a Diversity of Students

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A lot has changed in just over four years. Soon after IBM first made a cloud-based quantum computer publicly available in 2016 through our IBM Quantum Experience platform (which now includes more than 20 systems), instructors at a number of universities worldwide began integrating hands-on experiences into their curricula. Whereas these early lessons have been targeted mostly at graduate-level physics students, IBM realizes that quantum computing’s success both in the laboratory and the enterprise relies heavily on our ability to expand educational opportunities to a broader diversity of students.

IBM recently launched several initiatives to help inspire new students and begin building tomorrow’s quantum computing workforce. Our Quantum Educators program, in particular, provides professors and students with access to IBM quantum computers as well as the latest learning resources we’ve developed to help them get started programming and experimenting on quantum computers.

Equipping educators with new tools

Through IBM’s new Quantum Educators Program, quantum computing teachers at all levels, from middle and high school to undergraduate and graduate programs,  can now have prioritized use of IBM quantum systems via the cloud for both themselves and their students at no cost. The program enables teaching in a way that compels their students to account for the effects of noise, quantum coupling and other programming challenges they will encounter when using quantum computers, as opposed to quantum simulators running on classical computers. The program arrives just in time to help teachers prepare their lessons for the fall semester.

The Quantum Educators program also lets teachers in the field more easily connect with one another, while providing the learning resources, tools and systems access they need to provide students with quality educational experiences. The program gives educators a higher share of our open systems using our fair-share queue. Also, educators can utilize Pulse access on a 5-qubit system to teach quantum computing with full microwave control. For in-class demonstrations, instructors can reserve time with priority mode queue, which enables them to have certain jobs jump to the front of the line rather than wait in the queue.

Educators can supplement course materials with our open-source textbook “Learn Quantum Computation Using Qiskit”. It includes examples showing students how to run quantum algorithms on real quantum systems, a topic rarely discussed in most textbooks in the field today.

Virtual class is in session

Another key component of our quantum computing education efforts is the newly launched Qiskit Global Summer School, a virtual two-week event designed to empower the next generation of quantum developers with the knowledge to write quantum applications on their own. The school teaches students with little to no quantum computing experience to write quantum algorithms, understand superconducting device physics and solve quantum chemistry problems using Qiskit. Prerequisites are minimal, including familiarity with matrix multiplication and some experience with Python programming.

As part of the school, which runs through the end of July, students get hands-on access to IBM quantum computers. Based on an earlier in-person version of the program we rolled out in South Africa, we had expected an enrollment of about 200 students. It seems we underestimated the extend of global interest in quantum computing education, as more than 5,000 students showed interest worldwide, from over 100 countries. Students from the U.S. and India make up a little more than a quarter of the enrollment.

The overwhelming interest in the Qiskit Global Summer School gives some new perspective on the potential size of the quantum computing field, which had been anecdotally estimated to be no more than 10,000 programmers. As surprising as the sheer number of Summer School participants is the fact that 70 percent of the students are undergraduates studying a variety of disciplines outside of physics, including finance and computer science. Until recently, quantum computing has primarily been taught to PhD-level physics and engineering students.

Early access is the key to diversity

Through our new quantum computing education programs and resources, students now have access to real quantum systems. Now students can write algorithms in Python and see if they work on an actual quantum computer. That kind of hands-on access lets students learn in a few days what used to take several weeks, and leads to more immersive learning as students experiment with the quantum systems using a familiar programming language. As an added benefit of the familiarity of programming, we are also able to capture the interest of students early on, starting at the middle and high school levels.

Here’s How I Taught A Quantum Computing Course to Over 4,000 Students At OnceElisa Bäumer, Qiskit Educator, IBM Quantum

Introducing students to quantum computing earlier in their academic careers is an opportunity to capture net new interest in the subject, especially now that we’re offering a more pragmatic approach than writing out quantum algorithms on a white board. Reaching undergraduates also means more access to women and people of color, as student demographics tend to narrow as they move into graduate studies. That kind of diversity, enabled by a plethora of educational options, will play a crucial role in ensuring there are enough skilled quantum computing professionals as the technology matures.

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