Building the Quantum Workforce | symmetry magazine

For most of us, quantum computing, next-generation quantum sensing, and quantum networks are still in the future. But many scientists and early career students are already preparing for this future.

Physicist Reina Maruyama, who studies neutrinos and dark matter at Yale University, says she’s seen a flood of students and post-docs interested in quantum information science.

For Maruyama, this buzz is promising news. “When there’s an infusion of new people and new ideas, there’s probably a big technological breakthrough,” she says. “I’m excited about this, so I can combine this new technology with some really exciting science.”

Making progress in quantum information science and its applications will require the cooperation of experts from diverse backgrounds, she says.

A growing field

Through courses in computer science, physics, engineering, and mathematics, students gain sought-after expertise as the quantum field expands. For students looking to explore quantum technology, physicist Aaron Chou has this advice: spend some time understanding quantum mechanics. It’s not as intimidating as you think.

“People complicate it by saying, ‘Classical physics is what we’re used to and quantum mechanics is scary,'” says Chou, a scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Chou leads the push of quantum devices and sensors at the Center for Quantum Science, headquartered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “I would encourage people to think about it the other way around: quantum mechanics is the reality of the world, and it’s actually classical physics that is scary,” he says.

The field of quantum technology extends far beyond physics, into any problem for which many potential solutions exist, such as modeling climate and weather, creating new types of molecules, or review of financial markets.

To solve these kinds of problems, people are working on building useful quantum computers.

Efforts started with one, two or a handful of qubits, says John Martinis, a University of California, Santa Barbara physicist who helped build Google’s quantum computer with 53 programmable qubits. But it’s only now that we’re starting to see potentially powerful quantum systems.

Martinis compares advances in quantum computers to advances in particle accelerators. In 1930, a particle accelerator could fit in the palm of your hand; today we have the much more powerful Large Hadron Collider, measuring 17 miles in circumference.

“You have to learn how to build things better and understand the physics of the machine you’re putting together,” says Martinis. “And over time, we build more complex instruments that can do better science.”

For his part, Chou hopes to eventually use quantum computers to process the flood of data generated by billions — or even tens of billions — of quantum sensors, instrumentation that is not yet feasible today.

“If you want to take the next step in the complexity of particle detectors,” he says, you need a quantum computer. “Unless we simplify everything a bit, we just won’t be able to handle the huge and much larger number of channels that will be needed.”

A quantum workforce

Building a quantum computer is both a physics problem, a computer science question, and a multi-faceted engineering challenge.

We still have a lot to learn about the physics that govern how qubits get out of entanglement and how errors get into quantum computing systems. Running quantum computers requires new software and programming.

But it’s more than processor technology, says Celia Merzbacher, executive director of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium and co-author of “Assessing the Needs of the Quantum Industry.”

“There are a lot of surrounding or enabling technologies that are important,” she says.

Building quantum computers requires a number of interconnected engineering systems. For example, says Merzbacher, specialized electronics send precise microwave signals to the processor to control the qubit. Quantum systems require certain lasers, optics, vacuums, and cryogenic systems. And there is always a push to design these systems in more compact and stable forms.

With the rapid advances in quantum systems, is there a need for a whole new kind of worker, a quantum engineer?

Not exactly, says Merzbacher.

“Companies are eager to hire people from traditional engineering schools with expertise and knowledge in various classic fields such as photonics and software engineering,” says Merzbacher. “With just one or two additional courses in quantum science, they would be well prepared for a job in this field.”

And you don’t have to be a physicist with a PhD either to work on quantum systems, says Benjamin Zwickl, professor of physics at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“For students who are already majoring in all these different areas of computer science, engineering, and science, if they took a course or two in quantum, they would be really competitive for a lot of entry-level jobs at the degree in Quantum Technology,” says Zwickl. .

Ensure access

Although they represent a wide range of disciplines, those same fields that power the quantum workforce have some of the lowest diversity, Zwickl points out.

For example, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, white students in the United States earned a higher proportion of physical science degrees than other STEM fields in 2018: 66% of bachelor’s degrees; 72% of masters; and 73% of research doctorates. Black and Hispanic adults were the least represented among those with doctorates in mathematics, physical sciences and engineering. And although women earned 53% of STEM college degrees in 2018, they only accounted for 22% of those who earned bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 19% in computer science.

Mayurama says that as involvement in quantum information science grows in universities, tech companies and labs, it’s important to think about how to modify these models. “Sometimes the rush to get ahead can work against diversity or inclusiveness,” she says.

In their paper, “Achieving a Quantum Intelligent Workforce,” Zwickl and co-authors recommended incorporating quantum information education at the bachelor’s level and especially at the associate’s degree level, where the student body tends to be more diverse. Zwickl adds that quantum initiatives at historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and Hispanic-serving institutions can help students see future opportunities in the field and could break down barriers to entry into the main. -quantum work.

These are the same goals of a nonprofit initiative called Qubit by Qubit, which offers courses and educational programs to introduce quantum concepts to even younger students, at the K-12 level. “We’re trying to break down the idea that only geniuses can do quantum computing. That’s another hurdle, and K-12 education is really where you can break down those ideas before they break down. become so cemented,” says Kiera Peltz, Executive Director of Qubit by Qubit. “We want to show our students that this field is for everyone.”

This is an important moment, adds Rachel Zuckerman, director of the Qubit by Qubit program.

“We are fortunate to train a new generation to work with this technology and advance this field. If we do it right, it will greatly expand opportunities in this area, especially for those who have historically been left behind,” says Zuckerman. “It’s very encouraging, but the pitch shouldn’t take this responsibility lightly.”

Michael A. Bynum