A group of six stand in an open concept office. A white back drop has a lit up logo that says "Xanadu."
Thursday, January 25, 2024

Waterloo students triumph in Xanadu’s Quantum Cup

By Sarah Fullerton

Digital Communications Specialist

A group of University of Waterloo students enjoyed an incredible experience visiting Toronto to tour the head office of Xanadu, the Canadian quantum computing company on a mission to make useful quantum computers accessible to everyone.  

What brought these students to such a unique opportunity? A win at Xanadu's Canadian Quantum Cup: an incredible week of coding challenges where the brightest young minds from across the country battled for the top spot. In November, 15 teams went head-to-head, competing in three 24-hour rounds of challenges. The coding problems were diverse, covering topics such as the variational quantum eigensolver, Shor's algorithm, quantum Fourier transform, recoherence in spin systems, and the quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA).  

University of Waterloo graduate students Nan Song (BSc ‘21), Yushao Chen (MSc ’20), Shuwei Liu (MSc ’20), and Chuan Liu (BSc ‘21) came out on top and won the prize of a shiny new trophy and a behind the scenes tour of Xanadu’s head office.  

Song shares with us her experience at Xanadu and what she learned while on her tour:   

What about the tour inspired you?  

Xanadu's collaborative environment was inspiring. Throughout the day we had engaging encounters spanning different realms of expertise. From in-depth discussions with the PennyLane core team to insightful conversations with experts in quantum algorithms and a visit to the lab, it was filled with moments I will never forget.  

The fusion of knowledge and skills from physicists, engineers, and computer scientists created a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere. Witnessing the algorithms team deeply engaged in discussions, brainstorming sessions at whiteboards, and intricately sketching quantum circuits was fascinating and intellectually invigorating. This environment catalyzes technological advancement, underscoring the significance of interdisciplinary collaboration in advanced scientific research.   

What stood out to you the most?  

What captured our attention the most was witnessing the potential applications of quantum computing addressing real-world challenges. The transformation of theoretical concepts into tangible solutions is a compelling testament to quantum technologies' immense potential and effectiveness.  

In our conversation with the PennyLane core team, they highlighted the availability of various demos within PennyLane, each offering immersive experiences in different facets of quantum computing. These demos cover areas such as optimization, quantum machine learning, quantum chemistry, quantum hardware, and more, and play a crucial role in allowing students and quantum computing enthusiasts to delve deeply into the intricacies of the field. Xanadu is providing hands-on experiences and is fostering a profound understanding of the subject to demystify quantum computing, making it more accessible to a broader audience.  

Did anything surprise you?  

I was surprised by how Xanadu builds a quantum computer. What distinguishes Xanadu is its focus on photonic quantum computing, which is quite different from methods used by many other companies in the field. Xanadu's technology is grounded in photons, unlike quantum computers utilizing superconducting qubits or trapped ions. This technology has the potential advantage of operating at room temperature, as opposed to the low-temperature requirements of various other quantum computing technologies. I found this interesting because room temperature operation could significantly reduce the cost and complexity of quantum computing infrastructure. 

What also caught my attention was Xanadu’s technological architecture, involving the generation and manipulation of three-dimensional cluster states encompassing both GKP qubits and squeezed vacuum states. It is a significant innovation in quantum computing and is poised to enhance the robustness and scalability of quantum computing solutions. Xanadu is charting a path towards more efficient and powerful quantum computers. 

As the tour came to an end, we couldn’t help but reflect on the competition and feel nothing but proud of the challenges we overcame. Competing for the Quantum Cup not only tested our skills but also provided an opportunity to deepen our collective knowledge of algorithms. Throughout the competition, we encountered moments of struggle, fun, and astonishment. Representing the University of Waterloo and winning this award is a true honour and a testament to our hard work and team spirit! 

Level Up your Coding Skills 

The Canadian Quantum Cup may have come and gone, but you can still participate in Xanadu and PennyLane events like their annual quantum hackathon, QHack. QHack 2024 is a hybrid event and an amazing opportunity to level up your quantum programming skills and get involved with the quantum community.