SFU undergrads receive quantum grant award

December 09, 2021

SFU undergraduate students, George Watkins and Alex Nguyen, have recently received a grant award from the Unitary Fund to develop a compiler for error-correcting quantum computing.

Quantum computers are the next generation computing device that is expected to dramatically outperform current `classical’ computers in a variety of important tasks, such as optimization, machine learning, and molecular simulation.  Computing power is enhanced by harnessing the properties of quantum mechanics, the physical law that governs subatomic particles, but is not usually observed in daily-life objects including all of today’s computers.  However, information encoded in quantum devices is both fundamentally forbidden to be cloned and fragile against even the tiniest environmental influence.  There is thus a pressing need to develop error correction procedures dedicated for quantum computers; these procedures will be radically different from the counterparts in current computers.

The work by George and Alex, who are co-supervised by SFU Physics assistant professor Kero Lau and Computer Science senior lecturer Steven Pearce, is to develop an open source, end-to-end compiler that converts any unprotected quantum computing circuit to an error corrected version.  They use a technique called Lattice Surgery, which spreads out the encoded information into grids of quantum bits, and processes the data by joining and separating the grids. “We aim to build a compiler that anyone, even without any prior knowledge about quantum error correction, can use to get the instructions on how to rearrange their quantum program to enjoy the protection given by Lattice Surgery”, George explained. To cater to beginners, advanced users and researchers, the compiler is accessible through a public web interface and developed as an open-source package. A prototype has already been available on and GitHub.

The work began as a class project during the SFU School of Computing Science’s new course on Quantum Algorithms (CMPT 409) in Summer 2020, continued as an Honour’s Thesis project in academic year 2020-21 (co-supervised by UBC physics professor Robert Raussendorf), and eventually expanded to an international collaboration with quantum computer scientists Alexandru Paler (Aalto U), Varun Seshadri (TU Munich), and SFU Physics alumnus Keelan Watkins. The team recently received funding from the Unitary Fund for the next phase of development.  “In the coming months we will expand the functionality of our compiler to include correctness verification, benchmarking, and error model simulation”, Alex noted. The team also plans to demonstrate their product in international conferences, such as the quantum compiler session in the American Physical Society March Meeting.

The potential of quantum technologies has encouraged the federal government to launch a National Quantum Strategy to foster quantum-related research and commercialization in Canada. SFU is developing new research programs in this area. New courses related to quantum science and technology (e.g. PHYS 285 Quantum I, PHYS 416 Introductory to Quantum Information Science) are being added to the undergraduate programs of various departments; workshops and seminars have also been offered in collaboration with the partners at Quantum BC and beyond. “The development of quantum technology is fascinating! Our programs will equip our students for the rich research and job opportunities in this exciting field.”, Kero added.