Particle physics research

Sandia Physicist Leads New Quantum Computing Algorithm Research

ALBUQUERQUE, NM, August 2, 2022 – While quantum computers could one day revolutionize technology, a single slip of an atom can cause it to malfunction. Scientists all over the world are trying to determine the causes of these errors, and sometimes they turn out to stem from the way a program’s code is organized.

Timothy Proctor, who recently received a DOE Early Career Research Program award, will train an algorithm to improve quantum computing programs at Sandia National Laboratories. Credit: Rebecca Caravan.

Sandia quantum physicist Timothy Proctor is leading a new research project to help quantum computer scientists write better programs that fail less often.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science recently selected Proctor for an Early Career Research Program Award, which will support the project for the next five years.

The Early Career Research Program, now in its 13th year, is designed to provide support to researchers during their early career years, when many scientists are doing their training work. This year, the DOE recognized 83 scientists nationwide, including 27 from national laboratories.

Proctor was one of four selected Sandia researchers.

He said that in quantum circuits – the quantum equivalent of computer programs – the way commands are organized or structured can decide whether a computer can execute them successfully.

“For example, repeating the same instructions over and over can cause certain types of errors to accumulate much faster than they would if you were doing another pattern of instructions,” he said.

In his new project, Proctor will train an algorithm to discover other patterns and structures that can cause errors.

“We know that structure impacts how well the program works, but we don’t know exactly which structures will affect it, and that changes from device to device.”

Initially, he wants to create a tool that will tell developers the probability that their program will run on a given quantum computer. Over time, he hopes his work will change the way programs are written, reduce errors, and make quantum computers more useful.

Mentorship, love of math fuels work in quantum computing

Proctor came to Sandia six years ago after earning a doctorate in quantum physics from the University of Leeds in England. But in high school, he didn’t like science. For him, science involved too much memorization of facts and not enough understanding of why. Then he learned particle physics, which aroused his interest, and later university quantum physics, in which he continued his studies.

“Quantum physics just sounded exciting and actually easier than other subjects,” Proctor said. Even though the field has a reputation for being difficult and unintuitive, he said the mathematical foundations are simple.

“It’s very mathematical, and I like that,” he said.

Since joining Sandia, Proctor has worked at the Quantum Performance Lab, a research group that develops and deploys cutting-edge techniques for evaluating quantum computers. Not only has the work been interesting, he says, but the mentorship has been amazing.

“Coming out of graduate school, I was a competent scientist — I could tackle technical problems — but there’s a long way to go before I come up with compelling research ideas and top-notch projects. The mentorship I’ve had since I joined Sandia is why I can do this,” Timothy said.

Now, the Early Career Fellowship will allow him to expand his own team, and he is excited to onboard and mentor other early career scientists.

About Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-mission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the United States Department of Energy. Sandia Labs has significant research and development responsibilities in the areas of nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies, and economic competitiveness, with primary facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in Livermore, California.

Source: Sandia Laboratories