Waterloo IQCWaterloo is a pretty awesome place: a mid-sized Canadian community that has both deep Mennonite roots — it’s common to see people getting around by horse and buggy just a few minutes away from the Institute for Quantum Computing — and a leading high-tech sector.  It’s a place where scientists pursue revolutionary new ideas at research centres like IQC and Perimeter Institute, where more than 1,000 high-tech companies bring innovative new technologies to the market, and where a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem helps those companies compete on the global stage (the local company Sortable created a great infographic illustrating this path).

We here at IQC recently produced a video that explains how revolutionary quantum technologies are beginning to emerge from our labs, and how the organizations like the Accelerator Centre and Communitech provide invaluable resources that will help Waterloo become the world’s “Quantum Valley.”  Have a look:


Hippies kaiserImportant scientific progress is achieved through mathematical precision, rigorous experimentation and a no-nonsense dedication to strict methodology, right?  Well, sometimes.  Other times — like in the early-1970s in northern California, for instance — important scientific progress has been achieved through naked hot-tubbing, recreational drug use and a free-spirited dedication to Eastern philosophy and parapsychology.

We here at the Quantum Factory recently sat down with David Kaiser, a professor of History of Science at MIT and author of the 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics.

It turns out that cutting-edge research institutions such as the Institute for Quantum Computing are more closely related to the hippie counterculture than one might initially imagine. Unfettered curiosity about the universe and a thirst for discovery are common threads that link quantum research over the decades.

Check out the interview!

Anne Broadbent IQC

IQC postdoctoral researcher Anne Broadbent (photo credit: Simon Wilson)

By Anne Broadbent, IQC Postdoctoral Fellow

When Christopher Columbus set out to discover a route to the orient, he conjectured that by sailing due West, he would find a more efficient route to the much-coveted treasures of the East. Conventional wisdom cautioned that, in the process, he would fall off the edge of the Earth.

Quantum information scientists are sailing in uncharted waters. How do we know we are going in the right direction? Akin to using a sextant to shoot the sun, we have developed a toolbox to help us evaluate progress and adjust our course when required.

This week, a group of scientists from around the world met for the 2012  “Quantum Characterization, Verification and Validation Workshop” in Bethesda, Maryland. Typical questions being discussed and debated were: “How do we know if we correctly built a quantum device?”, “Can we establish standard benchmarks for quantum technologies?” and “Could a small quantum device be used to verify a larger one?”

Breakthroughs occasionally require bold actions that defy conventional thinking. In the case of quantum characterization, verification and validation, this involves questioning some of the established techniques — such as the ubiquitous yet ill-motivated use of a technique called “maximum likelihood estimation.” The consensus at this workshop is that our common goal should be to somehow master a quantum system’s entropy (a technical term referring to uncertainty), thereby enabling smooth sailing towards our final destination of full-scale quantum computers.

En route toward the elusive quantum computers, however, we will unavoidably reach the point where computational intractability limits our ability to make predictions on quantum experiments (indeed, there is strong evidence that this day is fast approaching). One of the themes in this workshop is how techniques from complexity and cryptography can help circumvent these limitations.

Given the attendees’ varied backgrounds, conflict is unavoidable and even desirable. One memorable debate on verifying quantum devices in the presence of systematic errors ended in an exclamation from one experimentalist that “Numbers are only correct in theory!” A welcome addition to the workshop is the online collaborative site — a feature that has allowed participants to focus on key questions ahead of time, as some discussions were launched a week before the workshop.

Christopher Columbus did not, of course, fall off the edge of the Earth, but instead discovered a wonderful New World. This week’s workshop has aided our navigation toward the new quantum world.

quantum symphonyMozart, meet Schrödinger.  He’d like to borrow your cat.

Last month, after more than a year of preparations, the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony did something very different — a mind-bending mash-up of music and science.

The concert, called “Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science,” was more than a year in the making, created with input from IQC researchers and symphony music director Edwin Outwater.

Through music, narration and some cool “sound experiments,” the concert explained the parallel histories of music and physics over the past century.

It was beautiful, vexing, daring and weird — everything an exploration of quantum science should be.

In case you couldn’t make it in person, we filmed it.  Check out an abridged version of the concert below, and a “making of” mini-documentary below that.  Enjoy!

IQC Booth

The IQC Booth at the AAAS Annual Meeting. Isn't it a beaut?

Representatives from the Institute for Quantum Computing have gone coastal, taking up temporary residence in drizzly Vancouver for the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS conference is the largest scientific gathering in the world, and it’s happening in Canada for the first time since 1981, so it’s a perfect place to showcase all things quantummy.

IQC Executive Director Raymond Laflamme delivered a public lecture in downtown Vancouver last night as part of a “CFI Dialogues at UBC Robson Square” series. Minds were boggled, awe was inspired, and conversations were sparked. Mission accomplished. IQC professor David Cory also spoke yesterday as part of a special summit that brought together all the Canada Excellence Research Chairs from across the country.  The format only allowed each speaker five minutes onstage — the so-called “pecha kucha” style of presentation — and Cory deftly provided an overview of his research into quantum devices (and he even had a few seconds to spare).

Over the course of this weekend, Laflamme and IQC faculty member Thomas Jennewein will participate in a pair of AAAS symposia, in which they’ll explore how quantum information research is transforming computing and communications.

On a less glamorous front, there’s been some manual labour too.  After several hours of grunting, groaning and a few minor scrapes and bruises, we successfully assembled the IQC booth in the AAAS Exhibition Hall, and it’s ready for when the doors open tomorrow.  There’s a hands-on demo of quantum cryptography, a video slideshow and oodles of reading material all about IQC.  There are even a few IQC yo-yos to give away, but you have to ask really, really nicely to get one.

Keep an eye on IQC’s website and Twitter feed for updates through the whole weekend.


Question: What do poetry, quantum physics and swing dancing have in common?

Answer: Krister Shalm.

Without those seemingly disparate influences, Krister would not be Krister. In a fascinating talk he delivered during TEDxUW (a University of Waterloo-based offshoot of the popular TED Talks phenomenon), the IQC postdoc described the “three epiphanies” that forever changed his life.

If you think physics, poetry and dance are mutually exclusive passions, think again. And watch this video. By the end of it, you might just be writing sonnets to Schrodinger’s Cat while dancing the Lindy Hop.

Now that you’ve heard Krister talk about dancing, you probably want to see him in action.  You’re in luck! Here’s some footage of him teaching a young pal, six-year-old Indigo, a few moves at the Lancaster Jazz Club in Kitchener, Ontario.  We wouldn’t be surprised if Krister taught Indigo some fundamental quantum mechanics, too.

IQC gives back

Researchers, students at staff of the Institute for Quantum Computing donated more than 680 items to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region bank  year.

We’re all lucky to live and work in this region, and IQC members wanted to give back to the community this holiday season.

The donations were collected over a period of weeks, but for your viewing pleasure we’ve sped up the process in the video below.