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CICS Students Win Quantum Computing Challenges at iQuHACK 2023

Aniruddha Sen
Aniruddha Sen ‘23

An intercollegiate team of students, including Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) undergraduate Aniruddha Sen '23, recently won first place in the in-person IonQ challenge at MIT's 2023 Interdisciplinary Quantum Hackathon (iQuHACK) for their work developing Game of Finches-an interactive model demonstrating the biological evolution of finches. 

Inspired by Charles Darwin's Galapagos Islands native finches, Sen and teammates Sasha Geim, Sophie Li, and Pieter-Jan Stas of Harvard University and Xixiao Xu of Carnegie Mellon University developed Game of Finches as a quantum simulation of evolution modeled by changing physical characteristics in finches, utilizing a trapped ion quantum computer to create an interactive modeling of biological evolution.  

"Each finch is represented as a group of qubits-the basic unit of quantum information-with quantum gates representing interactions between them," explains Sen. Their model's algorithm uses the probabilistic nature of quantum measurement to mimic the evolutionary process, allowing users to generate accurate evolutionary trees of finches with variable outcomes. 

In addition, master's student Gaurav Chandra and alum Yang Linchuan '22MS achieved second place in a challenge sponsored by full-stack quantum computing company Quantinuum, on a team with graduate students in physics and business from NYU and MIT. Their entry, Quassant, used genetic algorithms and the Grover mixer operator to reduce the number of qubits required to implement the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm, used for optimization problems. 

"Working with colleagues from both physics and computer science backgrounds was amazing," says Chandra. "Participating in this challenge has helped me see the potential for quantum computing to solve a different class of problems than you can solve with classical computing." 

iQuHACK is a three-day event aimed at increasing diversity in quantum computing, culminating in a 24-hour quantum hackathon. This year, 1,500 participants submitted over 150 projects, competing for five in-person and three remote challenges.   

"I had a great experience discussing and learning about quantum computing at the hackathon, but the highlight was getting to run our code in real-time on an actual quantum computer," says Sen. "Running a simple circuit on them requires very precise physical manipulation of atoms, which is both technically challenging and expensive, so it was really exciting to see and compare our results to the quantum simulations that we usually run on a normal computer."  

See all of the winners from iQuHACK 2023.