The quest to understand what sews the universe together

Inside IBM Quantum’s Partnership with CERN
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For more than 60 years, CERN, the world’s largest particle physics research center, has always been at the forefront of innovation. Based on the Franco-Swiss border near the city of Geneva, CERN is deeply connected to a buzzing international network of scientists. The World Wide Web was birthed as a CERN project. But that collaborative milestone was just a footnote to the institution’s main preoccupation, which is uncovering what the universe is made of and how it works.

These core building blocks of the universe have been established in well-founded theory – dubbed the Standard Model. But studying their properties in action and reaction, is the scientific challenge of a century. Gaining yet deeper insight into this elusive world would open a cosmic toolbox that has repercussions across every realm of science and technology.

For the last decade, that work has been focused on experimentation within CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the world’s highest-energy particle collider and, by far, the largest machine on the planet. Built in a circular tunnel, 27 kilometers in circumference and up to 175 meters deep, the LHC accelerates beams of particles, and smashes them together at immense speeds and energies to help analyze the behaviors of particles. Four major detectors are located along the collider. Each studies particle collisions from a different aspect, and with different technologies.

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Experiments in the Large Hadron Collider typically produce

1

petabyte of data per second

Analyzing that data requires almost

1

million classical CPU cores in 170 locations across the world

The Large Hadron Collider’s successor — due to come online later this decade — will result in CERN’s computing requirements growing significantly.
Alberto Di Meglio
head of CERN openlab
Generating Fathomless Amounts of Data

Things happen fast in the LHC. Every second, during an experiment, there can be about one billion particle collisions, creating up to a petabyte of data. Scientists discard the data that doesn’t deal with the specific collision events they’re studying. But a deluge of data remains – so much that analyzing it requires the combined effort of almost a million CPU cores, distributed across 170 computing centers all over the world.

When your datasets are that large, it doesn’t take long to run up against the limits of classical computing. CERN’s exponentially growing wealth of data is so immense that churning through it could bog down even the globe’s most powerful supercomputers. To complicate matters, “the LHC’s successor — due to come online later this decade — will result in CERN’s computing requirements growing significantly,” says Alberto Di Meglio, coordinator of CERN’s Quantum Technology Initiative and head of CERN openlab, a public-private partnership founded to accelerate the development of new computing technologies for its research community.

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IBM Quantum computer
Quantum computing may play a significant role in helping us to expand our knowledge beyond the standard model, exploring the many open questions related to issues such as dark matter, dark energy, the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics, and more.
Alberto Di Meglio
head of CERN openlab
Quantum’s Potential to Quash Complexity
Quantum computing may play a significant role in helping us to expand our knowledge beyond the standard model, exploring the many open questions related to issues such as dark matter, dark energy, the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics, and more.
Alberto Di Meglio
head of CERN openlab

So it makes sense that CERN has demonstrated a growing interest in the potential of quantum computing, a new paradigm of computation – based, ironically, on harnessing the same rules of quantum mechanics – that is expressly suited for conquering complexity, with the potential to rapidly distill insights even from Jupiter-sized datasets.

True to its collaborative ethos, in 2018 CERN openlab joined the IBM Quantum Network, a growing circle of industry leading companies, government organizations, and academic institutions partnering with IBM and each other to advance the field of quantum computing. The focus of CERN’s work with IBM Quantum is to apply quantum computing to large scale challenges in computation to advance the field of particle physics.

CERN openlab’s current Quantum Technology Initiative comprises dozens of projects across computing, sensing, communication, and theory. A recent collaboration with IBM scientists involves the detection and analysis of a certain kind of Higgs boson event. The Higgs boson is the manifestation of a field that gives mass to elementary particles; it was discovered by experiments at CERN in 2012. Sifting through raw data to find occurrences of certain Higgs boson behavior is a gargantuan problem that seemed well suited to the development of new quantum algorithms to solve it. Pinpointing these particular Higgs boson events seems to be a task tailor-made for the powers of quantum machine learning, a research area now being tackled by physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Sau Lan Wu, CERN, the IBM Quantum team, and Fermilab near Chicago.

Fine-Tuning Quantum Perception

Quantum machine learning seeks to create a new breed of intelligent algorithms that digest data in vast quantities, analyze them in great depth, and deliver tangible results with nuance and speed. Quantum machine learning can be used to delve into more computationally complex spaces – to sort the signal from the noise, distill insight from the deluge – and achieve new levels of accuracy, exponentially faster than classical computers.

Every day, within the walls of CERN and inside the cauldron of experimentation that is the Large Hadron Collider, the Standard Model of particle physics is constantly being probed, tested, and refined. “Quantum computing may play a significant role in helping us to expand our knowledge beyond the standard model, exploring the many open questions related to issues such as dark matter, dark energy, the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics, and more,” says Di Meglio. It’s apparent that quantum computing has the potential to play a growing part in this quest.

About CERN

CERN’s mission is to provide a unique range of particle accelerator facilities that enable research at the forefront of human knowledge, perform world-class research in fundamental physics, and unite people from all over the world to push the frontiers of science and technology, for the benefit of all.

About IBM Quantum Network

IBM Quantum Network is a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing.

About CERN

CERN’s mission is to provide a unique range of particle accelerator facilities that enable research at the forefront of human knowledge, perform world-class research in fundamental physics, and unite people from all over the world to push the frontiers of science and technology, for the benefit of all.

About IBM Quantum Network

IBM Quantum Network is a community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing.