Quantum computing for undergraduates

Gallery view of students attending a seminar via Zoom.

Participating in the first Quantum Computing Internship for Physics Undergraduates program this summer, students from a range of backgrounds learned about the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics. Photo: Henry Lamm

The Fermilab Theoretical Physics Department hosted its first Quantum Computing Internship for Physics Undergraduates program from July 5-23. Seventeen students from a range of diverse backgrounds learned about the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics that underlie quantum computing and gained hands-on experience, designing their own quantum circuits that can be run on IBM quantum computers accessed through the cloud.

The three-week online program comprised:

  • lectures by enthusiastic young researchers in quantum computing at Fermilab and from around the world;
  • daily discussion sections about physics topics, as well as graduate school and career opportunities in science;
  • and interactive labs in which pairs of students worked together to solve classical and quantum coding exercises.

The QCIPU labs and lectures began by introducing the weirdness of quantum mechanics, giving students hands-on experience numerically solving the Schrödinger equation and using classical computers to simulate simple quantum systems. After learning about the sign problem and other challenges of simulating complex quantum systems on classical computers, students began designing quantum circuits that can simulate quantum systems more efficiently by mapping a quantum state onto physical qubits in a quantum computer.

The labs culminated in a project where students designed and ran a full-fledged quantum simulation of a lattice gauge theory, describing a highly simplified version of quantum electrodynamics suitable for a three-qubit system. Students also learned about real-world applications, such as quantum search algorithms and quantum cryptography, as well as the challenges and prospects of engineering large-scale quantum computers to achieve them.

Fermilab scientists Henry Lamm, Ruth van de Water and Michael Wagman organized the QCIPU program and designed its lab exercises. The program was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy QuantiSed grant received by Marcela Carena.

The lecture content was primarily based on the textbook “Quantum Computing for the Quantum Curious,” written by current and former Fermilab postdocs Ciaran Hughes, Joshua Isaacson, Jessica Turner and collaborators, who also created a quantum computing course for high school students. Several other Fermilab scientists and postdocs also gave lectures, helped run labs and participated in discussions.