Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

By John Russell

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The National Science Foundation has done just as part of its EPiQC (Enabling Practical-scale Quantum Computing) program. So far eight ‘Zines’ have been created with more to come.

“Comic books offer approachable ways to convey both humor and information. One might think that comic books would not be able to convey complex information like the ideas behind QC. In this case, one would be wrong, at least for one as creative as the University of Chicago’s Diana Franklin, as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded EPIQC Expedition in Computing,” wrote Mark Hill of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a recent blog for Computing Community Consortium, run by NSF.

“In particular, Diana and colleagues have developed eight, with more coming, “zines” that are comic-book-like pamphlets obtained by printing and folding a single sheet of paper. The topics include quantum notation, superposition, and history. In my humble opinion, these are great examples of the synergy possible with research and education done together. Enjoy!”

Actually, the EPiQC program has broad goals as indicated by this excerpt from the EPiQC web site:

“Quantum computing sits poised at the verge of a revolution. Quantum machines may soon be capable of performing calculations in chemistry, physics, and other fields that are extremely difficult or even impossible for today’s computers. The multi-institutional Enabling Practical-scale Quantum Computing (EPiQC) Expedition will help bring the great potential of this new paradigm into reality by reducing the current gap between existing theoretical algorithms and practical quantum computing architectures.

“Over five years, the EPiQC Expedition will collectively develop new algorithms, software, and machine designs tailored to key properties of quantum device technologies with 100 to 1000 quantum bits. This work will facilitate profound new scientific discoveries and also broadly impact the state of high-performance computing”

You be the judge of how successful the comic books efforts are. Links to all eight zines are below.

Fred Chong from the University of Chicago is the lead PI on the project. Peter Shor (yes that Peter Shor of Shor’s algorithm) is listed as a participant.

Several universities, such as UChicago, MIT, Princeton, Duke, and UCSB, are mention on the site and will offer varied educational resources: “EPiQC will work with the Chicago Quantum Exchange and UChicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering to develop university curricula that reflects the vertically-integrated knowledge needed to efficiently design and utilize the quantum computing devices of the future. EPiQC sites at MIT, Duke, and Princeton will also develop specialty courses for the curriculum, in subjects including practical quantum algorithms, verification tools for quantum computation, and quantum computing devices,” according to the site.

EPiQC is also identifying and creating resources that introduce students to quantum computing outside of a formal university course. These include zines and videos, short graphic pamphlets that introduce important concepts in ways that tie to students’ everyday lives, and more extensive resources that are available on the web.

Clearly, quantum Computing (QC) is attracting considerable attention, including the National Quantum Initiative ActThe National Academies report on Quantum Computing Progress and Prospects, and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Next Steps in Quantum Computing: Computer Science’s Role workshop report.

“QC has great potential especially for problems that have vast complex search spaces with positive implications like designing better chemical catalysts and negative implication like breaking public-key encryption. QC, however, is hard to understand in large part because it relies on quantum mechanics whose behavior defies the common sense that we humans have developed from our direct experiences,” wrote Franklin.

Maybe a new quantum superhero will arise in future editions of the comic book series to help disentangle our ideas about entanglement.

Image Sources: EPiQC

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