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VIP Projects: Quantum


Quantum Information Science (QIS) is an emerging field with the potential to cause a dramatic shift in the processing power available to both government and industry. While the roots of QIS date back to the 70’s and 80’s, when pioneers such as Richard Feynman, Charles Bennett, and others began showing how quantum mechanics could be used as a computing machine, the field didn’t begin explosive growth until the mid 90’s. At that time, algorithms were developed that demonstrated quantum supremacy. That is, that a quantum computer could out-perform a classical computer, often by orders of magnitude.

These algorithms were most dramatically shown by Peter Shor who demonstrated that a quantum computer could factor very large prime numbers, giving rise to concerns over the fundamental techniques used in encryption. To capitalize on these new algorithms, ever-improving quantum machines are being developed. These include a plethora of different mechanisms for building the basic, fundamental building block of quantum computers, the quantum bit, or “qubit”, including superconducting loops, trapped atomic ions, advanced optical cavities, quantum dots, and even diamonds. As these technologies become more refined and quantum machines more capable, the need and impact of quantum algorithm development becomes ever more important. The Hume Center’s quantum workforce initiative is focused on developing the next generation of computer scientist, physicists, and engineers focused on the impacts quantum computing can have on national security.

Issues Involved or Addressed

The Hume Center for National Security and Technology is an interdisciplinary center at Virginia Tech focused on developing the next generation of leaders for the national security community. With an emphasis on intelligence and defense sectors, the Hume Center promotes educational and research programs geared toward this mission. The Hume Center’s educational programs include scholarships and fellowships, development of national security curricula, speakers and campus events, field trips and study abroad opportunities, operating an internship and job placement clearinghouse, and often the opportunity to obtain security clearances prior to graduation.

To further the engagement of students and to entice them into the national security community, the Hume Center is seeking to develop a long-term quantum information Vertically Integrated Projects program. This program is focused on cultivating relationships between faculty, students, government, and industry. To further these relationships, the Hume Center is running long-term quantum science projects composed of teams of students that span the gamut of class from Freshman through Senior level. Unlike many research projects, we structure the content here in recognition of the students themselves being the primary product.

Methods and Technologies

As a long term, multi-year program the Quantum Information initiative provides students with access to quantum computing hardware including the IBM Q and D-Wave 2000Q machines and a structured learning environment with dedicated faculty and like-minded students. The students work long-term, sponsored projects giving the students insight not only into how the quantum algorithms are developed but also into how the problems impact national security. Direct sponsor involvement in the problem definition and guidance in the algorithm development direction is expected and is invaluable to the students. Such involvement not only provides insight for the students into the needs of the customer but also provides access to the up-and-coming employees for the sponsor. Such a direct pipeline from coursework, through sponsored research, internships, and employment opportunities is of great benefit to the students, sponsors, and the Nation as a whole.

Academic Majors of Interest

Quantum algorithms are much less about programming and more about the underlying mathematics and intuition required to formulate specific problems into a quantum-aware form. As such, computer programming skills are generally less sought after while the more theoretical majors tend to be more appropriate.

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Engineering

Preferred Interests and Preparation

  • Wireless Communications
  • Dataset Creation
  • Machine Learning
  • Adversarial Machine Learning