Playing on the leading edge

October 05, 2006, volume 37, no. 3
By Stuart Colcleugh

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Colin Truncik works at the leading edge of one the most fascinating new fields in contemporary science—quantum computing—and he loves it almost as much as his other favourite field, the soccer pitch.

"I knew almost nothing about quantum computing until a few years ago, but now it's the primary focus of my career," says the Port Coquitlam native, who graduates this month with an honours bachelor of science degree in mathematical physics, and first class honours.

Quantum computers, of which there are only a few prototypes in existence, are potentially revolutionary devices based on the quantum properties of atoms, explains Truncik.

While conventional computers work by manipulating digital bits that exist in one of two states—expressed as zeros or ones—quantum computers manipulate quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist simultaneously as ones and zeros or anything in between. This gives them the potential to be millions of times more powerful than any conceivable supercomputer.

It's estimated, for example, that a quantum system incorporating a single molecule of 13 atoms strung together could outperform the quarter-acre-sized supercomputer used at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to simulate nuclear detonations.

"I've been interested in science since I was eight years old," he says, "but I didn't focus on physics until my second year at SFU." It wasn't until a 2005 summer co-op with Vancouver's D-Wave Systems Inc. that he caught the quantum-computing bug.

"D-Wave is the only company I know pursuing this field outside of academia," says Truncik, "and my supervisor, Mohammad Amin, really inspired me."

That led to a second co-op and then a consulting gig with D-wave, where he now works fulltime helping to design a quantum processor architecture for commercial use. He hopes to eventually pursue postgraduate work in the field, possibly at MIT or Stanford.

As for his other field, Truncik is a lifelong soccer player. "It's my sport," he says. "It seems like I'm always busy in one field or the other."

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