An MIT Alumni Association Publication

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The biggest little topic of our time was the subject of the MIT Alumni Forum held in November: “Quantum: The Hope, the Hype, and the Glory.”

Featuring MIT physics professors Peter H. Fisher and Paola Cappellaro PhD ’06, the forum provided a high-level introduction to quantum mechanics, the advantages of new quantum technologies (particularly computing), and the challenges facing this burgeoning field of research that takes place at the nano scale.

“We’re at a wonderful moment where there’s this tremendous potential we can see in quantum mechanics to bring forward a new era of computational ability,” said Fisher, the Thomas A. Frank (1977) Professor of Physics, head of the Office of Research Computing and Data, and vice provost at MIT.

As he explained, a computer with 60 qubits (or quantum bits, the basic unit of information in a quantum computer) can store over a billion billion real numbers and so could theoretically replace the world’s largest data center. “This is the hope, and this is also where a lot of hype comes in,” he said—because today’s quantum computers are extremely error-prone.

The glory, therefore, has yet to come.

At MIT, Cappellaro is leading an enterprise—Quantum@MIT—to bring MIT’s quantum researchers together and advance the field. “What we want to do is to foster the exploration and application of quantum systems, and in the best tradition of MIT, we’re really going from fundamental discovery to impactful technology,” she said.

Watch this talk to learn:

  • How the wave nature of particles in quantum mechanics enables superposition, the key differentiator between classical computing and quantum computing
  • How quantum computers process information through a phenomenon known as entanglement
  • Why quantum computers are prone to errors and what challenges researchers face in attempting to correct those errors
  • The quantum applications that are emerging beyond computing (including bioimaging and sensing)
  • How MIT researchers are advancing the field

The MIT Alumni Forum is a thought-provoking online series that brings alumni back to their years learning under the Great Dome. Each forum connects audiences with leading MIT experts while providing opportunities to engage with speakers and ask questions.