2020 IQC Achievement Award winner announced

Friday, December 18, 2020

En français

The Institute for Quantum Computing’s (IQC) Achievement Award is given to a University of Waterloo graduate student who studies quantum information and has achieved excellence in research. The latest winner, Michal Kononenko, talked with us about his Master’s research, keeping quantum information science relevant, and his advice for students thinking about studying in the field.

Congratulations on your Achievement Award Michal. How did you end up studying quantum information science at IQC?

My undergraduate degree was in Nanotechnology Engineering right here at the University of Waterloo. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, but an introductory course on quantum mechanics piqued my interest.

If I could point to one moment that inspired me, it was a lecture given by [IQC alumnus] Scott Aaronson about connecting problems in computational complexity to physical problems.

Now, I’m studying my Master’s in Physics under [IQC and Physics and Astronomy faculty member] Adrian Lupascu.

What are you researching for your Master’s?

We’re one of the three superconducting qubits groups here at IQC, and my focus is on performing benchmarking on superconducting qutrits. Overall, we are trying to make a better qubit—a quantum system with two usable energy levels for quantum information processing—but during the process, we’ve found that we can also control our system as a qutrit, meaning we can use a third energy level.

My research is performing randomized benchmarking that allows us to determine that we can actually control this qutrit at a level that is useful for quantum computing. Normally, losing information from a qubit into the third level is a problem. But with the help my research, we can turn that liability into an asset.

Is that something you foresee yourself working on?

I’d like to emphasize getting more people involved in projects like this. Studying superconducting qubits is a very exciting area to be in. If you’re interested in how quantum computers are going to work in the future, this is prime real estate. I see myself contributing to it, but I think communicating that importance should be a priority.

How do you see future quantum computers?

I see superconducting qubits as a strong contender for the building block of future quantum computers. But I could also see cross-platform computers where you perform your computation on a superconducting qubit and then store your data in an ion trap. I wouldn’t be surprised if quantum computers are hybrids in the future.

What does winning the IQC achievement award mean to you?

It is both an honour and a challenge.

It’s an honour because I appreciate that my work is being recognized. I am very grateful to professor Lupascu for his support and guidance. I couldn’t ask for a better supervisor or a better group to work with.

Winning this award is also a challenge to continue the work and keep making advancements. It is also a challenge to conduct myself as a role model deserving of such an award in the research community.

What’s next for you in quantum information science?

I’m very interested in the spin-off technologies that are coming out of this field. I think it is important that the field maintains its relevance to practical industrial problems. The Apollo mission didn’t just land men on the moon; it also generated lots of spin off technologies during the process that we still use today. I think the quantum computing mission should and can achieve the same to help maintain interest, investment and utility.

So, I want to partner with industry to take on challenges with developing those spin-off technologies. Once I have some experience in industry, I would like to then use that experience to inform further research in academia.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about applying to a quantum information program?

Don’t be afraid to follow your interests. Quantum information science is a broad field with ever growing possibilities and specializations. Ask professors, ask students, and find out what makes you excited about quantum information. That will help you find the research group and the research area that is right for you, and it will help you develop research problems to tackle.

But then don’t be afraid to change areas or bring in new ideas if you find out you’re not as passionate about that area as you thought. Because there are so many aspects of quantum information, there is always somewhere else to go.

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