Quantum computing integration to elevate physics program

The University of Rhode Island, along with 27 other institutions, is making a “quantum leap” by implementing quantum computing into the physics department.

Quantum computing uses specialized computers with the ability to take advantage of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems, according to International Business Machines.

URI has access to quantum computers on campus, as part of a deal with IBM. Physics Department Chair Leonard Khan said. The physics department launched a Master of Science degree in quantum computing in 2021, which can be earned in a five-year program alongside a bachelor’s degree in physics.

Khan, compared the rise of quantum computing to artificial intelligence, citing the quantum computer’s speed as one of its notable attributes.

“Problems that may take a supercomputer millenia to do running correctly you might be able to do in a few minutes with a quantum computer,” Khan said.

Similar to AI, the rise of quantum computers will come with its own issues. Personal information previously encrypted with classical computers will be at risk of being stolen.

“Eventually, when quantum computers become sufficiently robust, we’re going to have a situation where information as it’s currently encrypted will no longer be safe,” Khan said.

Quantum computing has interdisciplinary implications, spanning from business to computer science, Khan said. While the physics department is in charge of quantum computing, computer science, mathematics and engineering play a large part in it as well.

Biological and chemical sciences will also be heavily impacted by quantum computing, Quantum Information Science Program Director Vanita Srinivasa said.

“You can actually simulate nature with a quantum system, which is more like nature itself,” Srinivasa said. “Quantum computers have the promise that we can actually learn about these things [biological systems] in a whole new level.”

Srinivasa recently received a $500,000 grant from the Army Research Office for a four year theoretical collaborative quantum information project.

The physics department is working on bringing speakers from varying disciplines to campus for a quantum computing conference in August. The conference will be a quantum simulation, using quantum computing to simulate a variety of different activities. This summer, URI will also host K-12 summer camps to get younger students and teachers acquainted with quantum computing.

As for how quantum computing will impact URI students, that’s up to the individual.

Colloquiums have been given on campus this semester, including one on Friday from astrophysicists visiting from Scotland. Khan himself will be giving a webinar covering the potential of quantum computing at 1 p.m. on April 3.

For students not part of the physics department, quantum computing is still accessible. URI offers a certificate program in quantum computing, meant primarily for STEM majors to broaden their skills.

Learning the basics of quantum computing will put URI students among technological innovators, Srinivasa said.

“By being at the forefront of this, students can be at the forefront of what’s going to happen in the next technological revolution,” Srinivasa said.

As quantum computing becomes more prevalent in society, more manpower and knowledge will be needed to handle it.

“The challenge that we’re facing is that very few people of all the millions and millions of coders out there have any knowledge of quantum computing,” Khan said. “There’s a lack of workforce right now to support this.”

As URI students begin their ventures into the workforce, quantum computing may prove a marketable asset. For those interested in quantum computing, keep an eye out for the next colloquium held by the physics department.