Quantum computing pioneer Umesh Vazirani to give Cruickshank Lecture as part of three-day conference

Frontiers in Quantum Computing includes talks by more than 30 experts

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 12, 2021 – University of California, Berkeley Professor Umesh Vazirani, a pioneer in quantum computing algorithms and complexity theory, will deliver the annual University of Rhode Island Cruickshank Lecture on Monday, Oct. 18, in conjunction with the three-day Frontiers in Quantum Computing conference.

Frontiers in Quantum Computing, which celebrates the launch this semester of URI’s new master’s degree in quantum computing, will take place Oct. 18-20 on the Kingston Campus. More than 30 experts in the fields of quantum computing and quantum information science will deliver daily talks on such topics as the future of quantum computing, research and industry developments, and educational initiatives for the next generation of experts in the field.

“This will be an impressive gathering,” said Vanita Srinivasa, director of URI’s Quantum Information Science program and a conference organizer. “These scientists have made seminal contributions to quantum computing and quantum information science. We have speakers who are well-established in quantum information science, even before it was a major field, and we have speakers who are up and coming and are now among the top researchers in their fields.”

Vazirani, the Roger A. Strauch Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley and director of the Berkeley Quantum Computation Center, is considered one of the founders of the field of quantum computing.  His talk will explore quantum computing’s impact on the foundations of quantum mechanics and the philosophy of science.

“There are several different theories about how quantum mechanics can be interpreted. Advances in quantum computing will change our understanding of the foundations of quantum mechanics and maybe our overall view of the universe,” said Leonard Kahn, chair of the URI Department of Physics who helped organize the conference.

Vazirani’s virtual talk, “A Quantum Wave in Computing,” will be presented to an in-person audience in room 100 of the Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences, 140 Flagg Road, on the Kingston campus, at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 18. The lecture can also be viewed live with a link from the conference’s website.

The conference’s list of speakers includes U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who will deliver an address at 9:45 am. on the opening day of the conference, along with experts from around the U.S. as well as Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Denmark.

Jacob Taylor, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Joint Quantum Institute Fellow, and founder of the national effort overseeing implementation of the National Quantum Initiative Act, will deliver the conference’s opening keynote address on Monday, Oct. 18, at 8 a.m. in the Ballroom of the Memorial Union.

Charles Tahan, assistant director for Quantum Information Science and director of the National Quantum Coordination Office in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OTSP), will give the keynote address before the roundtable discussion on the future of quantum computing on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 5:15 p.m. in the ballroom, which is sponsored by D-Wave.

The panel will include Taylor, the first assistant director for Quantum Information Science at the OSTP; Michelle Simmons, a pioneer in atomic electronics and silicon-based quantum computing and director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology; Catherine McGeoch, Senior Scientist with D-Wave; and Christopher Lirakis, IBM Quantum Lead For Quantum Systems Deployment.

“The panelists will provide their perspectives on the future of quantum computing from industry, government and academia,” said Srinivasa. “The future is uncertain, but hopeful, and there are exciting challenges along the way. Quantum computing technology has progressed from something that’s been a dream to something that can actually be built.”

Quantum computers have the promise of solving key problems that would take a prohibitively long time to execute on classical computers. Because of the nature of the quantum bit, as compared to the classical bit, some of those intractable calculations can be done on a quantum computer in minutes rather than thousands of years. The impact on many problems – from molecular simulations to encryption of credit card data – will have far-reaching consequences.

“I don’t think there’s been a time when there’s been this much publicity and press about quantum computing,” said Kahn. “There’s clearly a path forward but there are a lot of hurdles along the way.”

With the conference celebrating URI’s master’s in quantum computing, education will be an important topic. Daily speakers will explore education initiatives, including developing curriculum at all levels to make the field more accessible to students. Presentations will include Chandralekha Singh, president of the American Association of Physics Teachers; Charles Robinson, IBM Quantum Computing Public Sector leader; and Robert Joynt, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Other topics include implementation of quantum computing and industry developments, including talks by Christopher Savoie ’92, founder and chief executive officer of Zapata Computing and a conference organizer, and Andrew King, director of Performance Research at D-Wave.  

“It’s going to be amazing science that will be talked about at the conference,” said Srinivasa, whose research focuses on quantum information processing theory for semiconductor systems. “Christopher Savoie has commented that this conference is equivalent to any of the major conferences on quantum computing that he’s been to.”

Frontiers in Quantum Computing is free and open to the public. Except for the Cruickshank Lecture, all events will be held in the Memorial Union Ballroom, 50 Lower College Road, on the Kingston Campus. While events are in-person, some speakers will take part virtually. All sessions can also be viewed online. For more information or to take part, go to the conference’s website.

The conference is sponsored by Zapata Computing, D-Wave, IBM Quantum, PSSC Labs, and Microway, along with URI’s College of Arts and Sciences, University Libraries, Information Technology Services, the Office of the Provost, and the Department of Physics.

The Alexander M. Cruickshank Endowed Lectureship was established in 1999. It is named for Alexander M. Cruickshank, who served on the URI chemistry faculty for 30 years and was subsequently the director of the Gordon Research Conferences until his retirement in 1993. The lecture series is sponsored by the URI Department of Physics, the Gordon Research Center and URI’s College of Arts and Sciences.

For more information, contact Leonard Kahn at lenkahn@uri.edu.