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Very rubin observatory, Credit: Rubin Obs/NSF/AURA

At Xanadu did Chen and Liu a Quantum Cup receive

Two Perimeter PhD students were part of the winning team at the 2023 Canadian Quantum Cup, a quantum programming competition sponsored by Toronto-based company Xanadu. Yushao Chen and Shuwei Liu, along with teammates Nan Song and Chuan Liu from the University of Waterloo, outperformed 14 other teams from across the country, in a packed, three-day, multi-challenge race.

Each challenge required teams to code using Xanadu’s quantum programming library, PennyLane, to solve a problem. Though the six challenges were worded to sound like fun – “Design an experiment to make a zombie cat” or “Create a circuit that determines whether quantum states have as many mountains as we think they do” – pulling out a win took everything the team had. 


“The first day, we were pretty confident,” said Liu. “We were the first team to complete all three challenges.” 

With half the teams eliminated for day two, the challenges grew much more difficult. 

“The second day’s problems were the hardest,” said Chen. “We almost gave up.”

The team had to create a quantum simulation of a classical “subtractor,” capable of accurately performing arithmetic subtractions. This challenge illustrates the capability differences between quantum and classical computers. Quantum computers can do some jobs in a fraction of a second that would take classical computers thousands of years. But something as simple as coding a quantum computer to subtract five from seven created huge headaches.

“We spent maybe 10 hours on the problem. We had to use quantum gates to simulate a traditional circuit board,” said Chen. “It was pretty interesting, seeing if it was possible for quantum computers to mimic these classical structures.”

Xanadu provided teams with prep challenges in advance of the contest, but every problem required competitors to develop a completely original approach. 

“At Xanadu, we want to help upskill the quantum workforce of the future. The Canadian Quantum Cup motivated students to learn about quantum programming in a fun way,” said Catalina Albornoz, Quantum Community Manager at Xanadu.

“Most of the effort comes in figuring out how to solve the problem. I would say coding the solution was pretty fun once we thought of the correct way to attack the program,” said Chen. 

While teams’ coding solutions had to work efficiently to be accepted, the Cup was primarily a race to see who could complete the challenges fastest. At the end of three days, the Perimeter-Waterloo team had the best times, thanks in part to their combined expertise in theoretical physics and computer science.

Participating in such a competition is primarily its own reward, but Xanadu also paid for the winning team to visit their offices in January 2024 to meet with the company’s employees from different teams, tour their cutting-edge facilities, and receive the Quantum Cup trophy.

“The visit to Xanadu gave a unique opportunity to the winning students from Perimeter and the University of Waterloo to meet experts in the field and learn from them,” said Albornoz.

À propos de l’IP

L'Institut Périmètre est le plus grand centre de recherche en physique théorique au monde. Fondé en 1999, cet institut indépendant vise à favoriser les percées dans la compréhension fondamentale de notre univers, des plus infimes particules au cosmos tout entier. Les recherches effectuées à l’Institut Périmètre reposent sur l'idée que la science fondamentale fait progresser le savoir humain et catalyse l'innovation, et que la physique théorique d'aujourd'hui est la technologie de demain. Situé dans la région de Waterloo, cet établissement sans but lucratif met de l'avant un partenariat public-privé unique en son genre avec entre autres les gouvernements de l'Ontario et du Canada. Il facilite la recherche de pointe, forme la prochaine génération de pionniers de la science et communique le pouvoir de la physique grâce à des programmes primés d'éducation et de vulgarisation.

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