Quantum computing, next-generation quantum sensing, and quantum networking are still in the future for most of us. Many early-career scientists and students, on the other hand, are already planning for this future.
Reina Maruyama, a physicist at Yale University who researches neutrinos and dark matter, says she has noticed an influx of students and postdocs interested in quantum information science.
This buzz, according to Maruyama, is good news. “There’s likely to be a major breakthrough in technology when there’s an injection of new people and fresh ideas,” she adds. “That excites me because it means I’ll be able to mix this new technology with some very intriguing research.”
She believes that progress in quantum information science and its applications would need collaboration among specialists from other fields.
A rapidly expanding field
Students develop knowledge in computer science, physics, engineering, and math, which is in high demand as the quantum sector grows. Physicist Aaron Chou offers some advise for those interested in quantum technology: spend some time learning about quantum mechanics. It’s not as scary as you may expect.
“People make things difficult by saying, ‘Classical physics is what we’re accustomed to, and quantum mechanics is scary,'” says Chou, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory of the US Department of Energy. Chou is the director of the Quantum Science Center’s quantum devices and sensors initiative, which is based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “I’d urge people to think about it the other way around: quantum mechanics is the way the universe truly is, and classical physics is the scary part,” he adds.
Quantum technology may be used to solve any issue with several possible answers, such as simulating climate and weather, producing new sorts of chemicals, or analyzing financial markets.
People are working on building practical quantum computers to solve challenges like these.
According to John Martinis, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who helped construct Google’s quantum computer with 53 programmable qubits, efforts began with one, two, or a handful of qubits. But it’s only recently that we’ve begun to observe quantum systems that have the potential to be very strong.
Martinis compares quantum computer advancements to particle accelerator advancements. A particle accelerator could fit in the palm of your hand in 1930; now, we have the 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider, which is substantially more powerful.
Martinis explains, “You have to learn how to construct things better and comprehend the mechanics of the machine you’re putting together.” “And as time goes on, we develop more complicated tools that enable us to do greater research.”
Chou, for one, aims to employ quantum computers to interpret the stream of data created by billions—or tens of billions—of quantum sensors, a technology that is currently unavailable.
“If you want to take particle detectors to the next level of complexity,” he argues, you’ll need a quantum computer. “Unless we simplify things a lot, we won’t be able to handle the massive, much greater channel numbers that will be required.”
A massive workforce
Building a quantum computer involves a combination of physics, computing, and numerous engineering challenges.
We still have a lot to learn about the mechanics of how qubits detach from entanglement and how mistakes enter quantum computing systems. Running quantum computers necessitates the development of novel software and programming.
But, as Celia Merzbacher, executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium and writer of “Assessing the Needs of the Quantum Industry,” points out, it’s about more than simply processor technology.
“There are a number of key surrounding or enabling technologies,” she explains.
Quantum computers are made up of a series of linked technical systems. Specialized circuits, for example, give precise microwave signals to the CPU to regulate the qubit, according to Merzbacher. Quantum systems need the use of lasers, optics, vacuums, and cryogenic systems, among other things. And there’s always the pressure to make these systems smaller and more stable.
Is there a need for a whole new sort of worker, a quantum engineer, with the tremendous advancements in quantum systems?
Not quite, according to Merzbacher.
“Companies are ready to acquire individuals with skill and understanding in different conventional sectors such as photonics and software engineering,” adds Merzbacher. “They would be well-prepared for a career in this sector if they took an additional course or two in quantum physics.”
Working on quantum systems also doesn’t need you to be a PhD-level physicist, according to Benjamin Zwickl, a physics professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“If students majoring in all of these diverse computing, engineering, and scientific subjects took one or two quantum courses, they’d be highly competitive for many entry-level positions in quantum technology at the bachelor’s degree level,” Zwickl adds.
Zwickl points out that, although covering a wide variety of fields, the domains that feed into the quantum workforce have some of the lowest diversity.
According to a Pew Research Center report, White students in the United States achieved a larger share of physical science degrees than other STEM areas in 2018—66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 72 percent of master’s degrees, and 73 percent of research doctorates. Adults who earned doctorates in math, physical sciences, and engineering were disproportionately black and Hispanic. Women obtained just 22% of engineering bachelor’s degrees and 19% of computer science bachelor’s degrees in 2018, although accounting for 53% of STEM college degrees.
Mayurama believes it’s critical to consider ways to change these tendencies as interest in quantum information science rises at universities, IT businesses, and labs. “The urge to go ahead may sometimes be at odds with diversity or inclusiveness,” she argues.
Zwickl and co-authors advised introducing quantum information training at the bachelor’s level, especially at the associate’s degree level, where the student population is more diversified. Quantum programs in historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and Hispanic-serving institutions, according to Zwickl, may help students anticipate potential prospects in the area and reduce hurdles to entry.
Those are the same aims pursued by Qubit by Qubit, a non-profit organization that provides courses and educational activities aimed at introducing quantum ideas to K-12 pupils. “We strive to dispel the myth that quantum computing is solely for geniuses.” “K-12 schooling is really the area where you can tear those notions down before they get so established,” Kiera Peltz, executive director of Qubit by Qubit, explains. “We want to demonstrate to our pupils that this profession is open to anyone.”
Rachel Zuckerman, program director at Qubit by Qubit, adds, “This is a pivotal time.”
“We have the opportunity to teach a new generation of people to work with this technology and progress the profession.” If we do it well, it will significantly increase opportunities in this profession, particularly for individuals who have been traditionally marginalized,” Zuckerman adds. “That’s really encouraging, but the field should not shirk its responsibilities.”