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JQI Researchers Receive Quantum Award from Google

JQI Fellow Mohammad Hafezi and JQI Graduate Researchers Alireza Seif and Hwanmun Kim have received an award from Google to support research identifying and developing problems that simple quantum computers might help solve. The work could bridge the divide between demonstrating quantum supremacy, as Google claimed to do in October, and building practical quantum computers that can run established algorithms.

“It is an exciting time when industry and academia work together on quantum problems,” Hafezi says. “I am looking forward to collaborating with the Google AI team,” he adds, referring to Google’s artificial intelligence research arm.

Google created the honor, called the Google Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) award, in 2017 to promote collaboration between academic researchers and the Google team that leads the company’s quantum computing development. It supports researchers who study the near-term applications of small quantum machines that bring together just a few dozen qubits—the basic units of information in a quantum computer. Although researchers expect millions of qubits will be needed to unlock the full potential of quantum computing, these smaller computers, which scientists often identify as NISQ devices, may still offer advantages over conventional computers in solving specific problems.

The planned work of Hafezi and his students drew Google’s attention because it directly addresses NISQ computing problems. They are investigating the minimum number of qubits that are theoretically necessary to address interesting problems and developing ways to use quantum computers to efficiently simulate physical systems—for example Bose-Hubbard and fractional quantum Hall models—that would be difficult to simulate using a classical computer. 

With the passage of the National Quantum Initiative Act in 2018, which named quantum science as a national research priority in the U.S., interest in quantum computing and related technologies has been booming. Researchers have been focusing more and more on finding applications for early quantum computers, both for practical benefits in the short term and in hopes of laying the foundations for the quantum computers of the future.

“The recent demonstration of quantum supremacy heralds the onset of the NISQ era, where near term quantum processors can meaningfully contribute to scientific questions prior to the achievement of fault tolerant quantum computation,” says Pedram Roushan, a member of Google's AI quantum team. “This award provides focused support for the development of NISQ algorithms that leverage the computational power of modern quantum computers.”

The award marks the beginning of a collaboration, allowing Hafezi and his team to work on theoretical questions that might be studied using the Google hardware. In turn, those theoretical advances may help Google researchers to further develop their quantum machines.

Story by Bailey Bedford