Caltech hosts largest quantum information conference
With only a few minutes left on the clock, the two finalists in the third quantum chess tournament both had “split” their kings, meaning the kings were in a state of overlap, or in two places at once. Spectators watched the match unfold on the big screen as the two finalists sat opposite each other on a stage, intently focused on their computer screens. At one point, one of the game’s commentators said, “Even if you can win in one universe, you can lose in another”, referring to the fact that quantum chess goes beyond traditional chess to invoke the bizarre achievements of quantum physics. In the end, Daochen Wang of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computing would capture his opponent’s king and be named the champion.
This scene was a highlight of the 25th edition Quantum Information Processing Conference, or QIP, the world’s largest conference in the field of quantum information, a discipline that brings together quantum physics and computer science. This growing field is driving many potential future applications, including quantum computers, quantum cryptography, and more.
“This is the first time the conference has been hosted in Southern California and is the first major on-campus collaboration between the new AWS Center for Quantum Computing and Caltech,” said Spiros Michalakis, Head of outreach from Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, or IQIM, which helped organize the conference. The 25th QIP was held at the Pasadena Convention Center and the nearby Hilton Hotel from March 7-11. Additionally, lectures were held on the Caltech campus.
The conference included many technical discussions about the theoretical workings of what could eventually result in genuine quantum computers. Most scientists say that quantum computers are still in their infancy; many challenges remain, they say, before the devices can be used on practical issues such as data security and the development of new medicines and sustainability practices. In the meantime, scientists and engineers come together at conferences like QIP to enthusiastically share information and make new connections. Conference attendees traveled to Pasadena from as far away as Italy, Germany, Australia and even Singapore.
“The big part of conferencing is meeting new people,” says Michalakis. “It’s a global social gathering for our field.”
Stacey Jeffery, who traveled to Pasadena from CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) in Amsterdam, said it was the first conference she had attended in years due to the pandemic. She said it was good to connect with others, and when asked what she learned from the conference, she said she was intrigued by a conference on the quantum currency potential. In quantum information theory, the “no cloning” theorem states that it is impossible to copy quantum information, which is easily done in classical computers. Similarly, “you wouldn’t be able to copy quantum coins,” says Jeffery, who served as co-chair of the conference’s program committee. Not being able to copy the parts would mean that they are tamper-proof.
Hsin Yuan (Robert) Huang, a graduate student who works with John Preskill, director of IQIM and holder of the Richard P. Feynman Chair in Theoretical Physics, was selected to give one of the three long plenary lectures. The talks are chosen to represent “particularly significant breakthroughs,” Preskill says. “It was quite an honor for a student to be chosen,” he said. In his talk, Huang explained that machine learning algorithms trained on data from quantum experiments can predict properties of complex quantum systems that would be very difficult to predict without access to the data.
A diversity panel also highlighted the experiences of women scientists in the community, including Laura Lewis, who has worked with Thomas Vidick, professor of computer science and mathematical sciences at Caltech, for two years on quantum cryptography. (Vidick curated the entire QIP conference program this year.) Lewis and others shared tips on how to network at conferences — panelists generally agreed that you have to push yourself to get out there and meet. people – as well as how to make new research connections outside of conferences. “Students often don’t know how to get started in research, so cold emailing professors is okay, especially in a field as small as quantum computing,” Lewis said.
A social highlight of the conference followed the final Quantum Chess tournament on Wednesday evening, March 9. Conference organizers hosted an evening of talent and comedy acts that included quantum-inspired songs and art, as well as piano and violin performances. A group of college students danced wildly on stage to a punk rock-themed song called “Quantum Computers Ain’t Losers” as hundreds of people in the audience cheered.
Preskill also covered “One Entangled Evening”, a song he performed with singer Gia Mora for a 2016 IQIM celebration in honor of the late Richard Feynman. The song’s final lyrics aptly capture the jubilant mood of the night: “Once we dream it, we can do it!”