Imagine if we could remove pollution from the atmosphere, or design drugs targeted for more effective treatment against disease? Poised to revolutionize society, quantum technologies may help us overcome these and other research challenges—and IQC and Department of Physics and Astronomy PhD student Kristine Boone is helping to pave the way.
After almost two decades of research, the first quantum computers are emerging from research labs around the world. Their unprecedented processing power is anticipated to impact areas such as healthcare, transportation, communication and digital privacy.
Inspired by these possibilities, Boone has set her sights on correcting the Achilles’ heel of quantum computing: errors.
A traditional computer uses long strings of bits, encoding information as 0s and 1s. But quantum computers take a different approach. They use quantum bits qubits—that, thanks to quantum mechanics, can be both a 0 and a 1 at the same time. Known as superposition, this ability to be in two states at once offers powerful computing potential and gives quantum computers an edge in performing some types of calculations more quickly. The catch: qubits are fragile. Any imperfection in the system can cause errors that affect the outcome of a quantum computation.
Recognizing the immediate need for software capable of measuring, mitigating and correcting quantum errors, Boone’s supervisor, IQC faculty member Joseph Emerson, along with assistant professor Joel Wallman, co-founded Quantum Benchmark. Their mission: to enable quantum computers to solve real-world problems.
Boone’s research specializes in randomized benchmarking, a series of protocols designed to ensure that quantum operations are, in fact, actually quantum. As a researcher at Quantum Benchmark, she designs algorithms to test the quality of quantum operations and works with experimentalists to diagnose errors and develop customized software solutions for quantum computing hardware.
“If quantum computing is the gold rush, we are making the picks and shovels,” said Emerson, a professor in applied mathematics. “The power and potential of quantum technology is there, the tools to harness it are evolving.”
While there are many technological hurdles still to overcome, a quantum computer with a genuine performance advantage compared to today’s computers would mark a major turning point in the quantum revolution.
“A universal quantum computer would allow us to drive science so much faster,” said Boone. “It will take the guess work out of simulation and let us start solving some of those really big, impactful problems.”
Once something straight out of the pages of science fiction, the development of a universal quantum computer is not far away, said Boone. “I really believe it’s a matter of when—not if. That’s pretty incredible.”