The Quantum Cryptography School for Young Students, or QCSYS (pronounced cue-see-sis) started in 2007 by Michele Mosca (IQC’s deputy director) and then IQC grad students Donny Cheung and Carlos Perez-Delgado, who wondered if it was possible to teach high school students the tricky mathematics and physics behind the cutting-edge technology of quantum cryptography — in just one short week.
What started as a test run with two brave local high-school students has became, in just four years, an international school hosting upwards of 40 students. This was my first year as the director of QCSYS I’m happy to report that YES, it is indeed possible to teach quantum cryptography to curious young minds! As an added bonus, we had a blast!
The 42 young scientists converged on Waterloo from all over the world — China, Taiwan, Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic and all around North America. Anytime you bring strangers together — particularly young ones who are far from home — you wonder if they’ll come out of their shells. Friendships were sparked at the get-go and the rest of the week just helped solidify them. The students immediately bonded with each other, as well as with QCSYS coordinator Matt Volpini and our five great chaperones: Erin, Meghan, Chris, Tyler and Luvneet.
So what was the school all about? Well, despite all the quantum content, it is quite simple. We want to encourage young adults to be bold and curious, to keep pushing the limits of what they know and to keep trying to find answers. We want them to discover that math and science are cool, powerful and can led to astonishing new technologies. And hey, if we can entice a few of them to pursue a career in quantum information science, all the better!
Although the school has the term “Quantum Cryptography” in it, we teach them lots more: number theory, algebra, quantum mechanics, classical cryptography, and so on. IQC Executive Director, Raymond Laflamme taught them about other quantum technologies we are working on, and IQC faculty members generously opened their labs for tours. The students even got to build their own (mock-up) quantum key distribution system.
But the QCSYS experience goes way beyond booksmarts.We wanted the students to have fun, build friendships and leave Waterloo feeling enriched in every way. When we weren’t in the lecture hall or the labs, we could be found at the movies, playing sports, eating s’mores around a campfire, or zooming around an asphalt track in go-karts.
My take on the week? Well, it was demanding and tiring, but in a good way — I was continually bombarded with hard-to-answer questions like “When will we have a true quantum computer?” and “What does it really mean to be in a superposition?” Then again, I love talking about that stuff, so the students’ insatiable curiosity energized me!
From my point of view, this year’s QCSYS was amazing. The students were curious, inquisitive, intelligent, energetic — in other words, the perfect QCSYS crew!
Huge thanks to Matt Volpini, Erin Seaton, Meghan Green, Chris Sutherland, Tyler Hunt and Luvneet Verma, who took good care of our 42 students, 24 hours a day! For now, a little rest — then we’ll be looking forward to QCSYS 2012!