We’re delighted to have another guest blogger on the Quantum Factory today. This time, Angela Ruthven of the University of British Columbia shares her perspectives on the Undergraduate School on Quantum Information Processing (USEQIP), a two-week quantum crash course that wraps up this Friday. From liquid helium to road hockey, from superconducting qubits to ping pong — as you’ll see, Angela and her 18 fellow USEQIP participants have had no shortage of experiences at IQC…
Snowmen Dressed Up as Scientists (and other quantum adventures), by Angela Ruthven
Maybe when you hear the words “all-expenses-paid trip,” a two-week summer school is not the first thing that comes to mind. But so far, USEQIP has been every bit as exciting as any exotic vacation. A typical day here at USEQIP includes six hours of labs or lectures interspersed with three-and-a-half hours to ask questions, get to know fellow students and eat the delicious food that frequently appears in the hallway. Our lecturers are IQC researchers at the forefront of their fields. Without exception, they all are very approachable and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with us. We have been introduced to a wide range of topics, including NMR, optics, quantum algorithms, and quantum cryptography. Every night, I arrive back at my room utterly exhausted, my mind bulging with new ideas.
Yesterday we had no lectures, and instead spent the entire day in labs. First, my group suited up for a morning in the cleanroom, where the qubits used in superconducting qubit experiments at IQC are made. These devices are extremely small – for example, a flux qubit is only a few micrometres in length, and contains nanometre-sized components. Because of this, a speck of dust or grain of pollen landing on the circuit during the fabrication process can completely ruin the qubit. To minimize the amount of dust floating around, nanocircuit fabrication is done in the cleanroom, which uses special ventilation systems to keep the room, well, extremely clean. IQC’s cleanroom is an ISO 6 (Class 1000) cleanroom, which means it contains roughly 1000 times fewer particles per unit volume than an ordinary room. Because we humans collect a significant amount of dirt, dust, and other contaminants over the course of a day, we had to put on special cleanroom suits before we could enter. These include white shoe covers, full-body suits, rubber gloves, hairnets and safety glasses. In the end, we all looked like snowmen dressed up as scientists!
In the afternoon, we explored another important aspect of superconducting quantum computing – the phenomenon of superconductivity itself. Superconductors are strange materials that, when cooled below a certain critical temperature, have zero electrical resistance, allowing them to sustain a current indefinitely. We checked this behaviour out for ourselves in the lab. To cool our superconductor, we used liquid helium, which has a temperature of 4K (that’s -269ºC — and you thought Canadian winters were cold!). As we cooled it, we measured the superconductor’s resistance. Sure enough, below 10K, the resistance abruptly decreased to almost nothing.
It’s not all work here at USEQIP. At the end of the day, I participated in my first game of ball hockey since elementary school. Due to the hot, humid weather, we stopped after 10 minutes, and instead played ping-pong indoors!
Today will be another busy day – three labs are scheduled! I’m especially excited for the quantum key distribution lab. Last week, we had an interesting lecture in quantum cryptography – sending secret messages securely using quantum systems. Some interesting methods were discussed – I’m looking forward to implementing some of them experimentally!