Twenty years ago, a cross-campus collaboration in quantum science and technology was just a newly unfolding idea. Today, the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) has grown from this idea into a fully formed campus research community, and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. 

Today, on World Quantum Day, we proudly reflect on IQC’s impressive achievements made over the past 20 years, look forward to the future of quantum discoveries, and celebrate the new connections and collaborations that they have brought to the University of Waterloo community.

As a thriving research institute at Waterloo, IQC is a node in the network of cross-disciplinary research stretching across campus and enhancing the connections between faculties and research areas. IQC was consciously planned and developed with the aim to forge relationships between researchers across the University and across the many phases of the innovation continuum.

The institute brings together fundamental theorists, quantum experimentalists, inventive designers, and entrepreneurs into one centralized community and space, to think differently and collaboratively about the future of quantum information science and technology — from the fundamental theories that shape our understanding of the world to the latest cutting-edge applications of quantum technologies.

“IQC is a leader in Canada’s quantum information landscape as we continue to make new discoveries and push the boundaries,” says Dr. Norbert Lütkenhaus, executive director of IQC. “We’ve seen quantum innovation flourish at IQC throughout our history, as our researchers develop innovative concepts, turn ideas into experimental reality, then take developments into the application and commercialization sectors.”

While there are many examples from IQC’s history that showcase the quantum leaps our researchers have taken, one notable project that has grown from an initial theory through to the commercialization sphere at IQC is with Dr. Joseph Emerson, a faculty member at IQC and professor in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics.

When Emerson joined IQC in 2005, his research considered the fundamental theories of quantum systems. He studied the interface of randomness and decoherence in quantum computing, contributing to the fundamental knowledge that underlies our methods for controlling and using noisy and not-fully-characterized quantum systems, such as fault-tolerant quantum error correction.

Emerson’s theories soon became experimental reality as the mathematician partnered with IQC faculty members including Dr. Raymond Laflamme (also a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy) and Dr. David Cory (also a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Chemistry). Together, the IQC collaborators used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) quantum information processing methods to implement, test, and demonstrate the quantum error correction theories.

Further collaborations with IQC’s Dr. Joel Wallman became highly noticed in top academic journals, including Nature, as they pushed the connection between quantum contextuality and applications of quantum computing. Wallman has a long history at IQC, joining initially as a postdoctoral fellow with Emerson, then becoming a faculty member with IQC and Waterloo's Department of Applied Math, before transitioning to the position of an IQC associate while working in Waterloo’s thriving quantum industry ecosystem.

Their work, known as randomized benchmarking, has since become the industry-standard method for error characterization for quantum computing hardware. The years of research at IQC led to Emerson and Wallman founding the startup Quantum Benchmark in 2017.

Quantum Benchmark is the leading provider of software solutions that enable error diagnostics, error suppression and performance validation software for quantum computing hardware and was acquired by Keysight Technologies, Inc. in 2021.

The strong collaborations happening within IQC, such as the success of Quantum Benchmark, are a testament to the leadership and vision that IQC has demonstrated over the past 20 years, not only within the UWaterloo campus community, but also within the quantum community across Waterloo region, Canada, and around the world.

This spring, IQC is continuing to celebrate the quantum connections we have nurtured by hosting Quantum Connections, our inaugural networking conference for the Quantum community across Canada. We look forward to sharing our networking expertise with Canada’s quantum community, building new relationships, and promoting networking between students, researchers, industry professionals and government leaders through this conference, but also into the future as quantum information science and technologies continue to thrive at Waterloo.