Quantum Impact

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To the casual observer, a quantum computer—with its tiered, “upside-down wedding cake” design, strands of precisely strung wires, and shiny, metallic finish—could be mistaken for a funky chandelier or a work of modern art.

Yet, despite the machine’s futuristic look, the computing technology, as it exists today, is somewhat clunky.

“Quantum computers are in their early stage of development,” says Tamás Terlaky, George N. and Soteria Kledaras ’87 Endowed Chair Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). “They have limited capacity. They are not reliable. They are ‘noisy,’ meaning error-prone. You could relate them to the early vacuum-tube, first-generation computers that existed before the silicon transistor was discovered.”

It’s the benefit of hindsight, having witnessed the wide-ranging impact of the “silicon revolution” and the invention and growth of the internet, that has Terlaky and fellow members of Lehigh’s Quantum Computing and Optimization Lab (QCOL) excited to play a leading role in what they see as the dawn of a new technological age.

QCOL was formed in 2019 with major support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Lehigh’s ISE department. The group is led by Terlaky and includes ISE faculty members Luis F. Zuluaga and Xiu Yang (a 2022 recipient of the NSF CAREER award; see "Great Expectations"), computer science and engineering assistant professor Arielle Carr, graduate students, and outside collaborators from industry, national labs, and academia.

The interdisciplinary lab, a research group within Lehigh’s Institute for Data and Intelligent Systems (I-DISC), is working on optimization algorithms in quantum computing (QC) that could hold the key to “solving problems in economics, transportation and supply chains, telecommunications, and other areas that are unsolvable today,” says Terlaky.

“Quantum computing is a revolutionary new computing paradigm,” he says. “We cannot fully assess its long-term potential and impact.”

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Article by Katie Kackenmeister RCEAS Resolve Magazine Fall 2022
Image: An artist’s depiction of the circuitry of a quantum computer. (Courtesy of David Parker/Science Source)