Quantinuum Helps Award-Winning High Schooler Test Algorithm

March 10, 2022

By Amy Wolff

For Quantinuum

For most high school students, summers are for hanging out, playing video games, and staying up too late. Well, most high-schoolers are not Max Bee-Lindgren, a senior at Decatur High School in Decatur, Georgia. In 2021, Max spent his summer calculating transition matrix elements, the rate at which atoms, molecules, and other quantum-mechanical systems change states when interacting with their environments.

One important calculation is the emission of light from an excited electron in an atom. This state change is difficult to model accurately on current (classical) computers. Quantum computers, like those being developed by Quantinuum, hold great promise for modeling quantum systems but require new algorithms to make efficient use of their capabilities in a way that is robust to noise.

“I’ve always wanted to know how things worked — more specifically — why things happen,” said Max. “When I was a kid, I would endlessly ask my parents ‘why.’ When they answered, it would just trigger more and more questions down an endless chain until eventually the answer would end up being ‘it’s a complicated physics thing we can’t explain.’ So, I figured if I wanted to actually know why things happen, I should probably learn physics.” 

For several months last summer, Max had the chance to collaborate online with other physics fanatics, including his mentor, Dr. Dean Lee, a nuclear physics professor at Michigan State University, and Kenneth Choi, a freshman at MIT who created the original rodeo algorithm during his apprenticeship with Dr. Lee in 2020. They were also joined by MSU students Zhengrong Qian, Jacob Watkins, Gabriel Given and Joey Bonitati. 

The team met several times a week to discuss new developments in the rodeo algorithm research, collaborate about next steps, and get any big news updates on the project. The time spent paid off when Max was notified that he, along with 39 other high schoolers from across the U.S., was a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent (STS) Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

Like many people, when a call from an unknown number came in on his phone, Max declined the call. But when the Washington, D.C., number called back a second time, he picked up and was “shocked” to discover he had made the competition’s top 40. 

“Being a part of this intensive summer program has driven me to complete the project in the best way possible,” Max said. “Without the support of Dr. Lee and his team, I would still be researching, but not fully applying myself nor putting my experience into practice. It is nice to have a direct and present force driving me to succeed, and thanks to the STS program and my experiences, I’ve met a lot of amazing people who are as focused on physics as I am.”

Quantinuum is an integral partner in the success of this research project.

 “The purpose of this collaboration is one of mutual benefits,” said Dr. David Hayes, a principal theorist at Quantinuum. “Professor Lee and his students get to test their theories on real hardware and identify any weaknesses in the proposal. Quantinuum benefits by helping the world get a little closer to identifying quantum algorithms that yield a computational advantage over classical algorithms.” 

“Quantinuum is well served by the world-wide effort to advance these algorithms, so we try to identify the most promising ones and provide testbeds for them,” Hayes added. “Professor Lee's proposal caught our eye last year as a new idea for simulating quantum materials, which we believe to be the most promising avenue toward a near-term quantum advantage.”  

The 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists were selected from more than 1,800 highly qualified entrants based on their projects’ scientific rigor and their potential to become world-changing scientists and leaders. Each finalist is awarded at least $25,000, and the top 10 awards range from $40,000 to $250,000.

“Max’s award is for the design of the two-state rodeo algorithm,” said Dr. Lee. “The potential promise of the rodeo algorithm lies in its ability to be robust against noise and exponentially more efficient than other well-known methods for quantum state preparation.” 

Max shares his notebook with the Quantinuum theory group regularly and is looking forward to implementing his algorithm soon on the company’s System Model H1 quantum technologies, Powered by Honeywell. 

“In the next few months, we’ll get a chance to run the two-state rodeo algorithm on the H1, which is very exciting,” Max stated. “The H1 is a good bit less error prone than other available systems, by an order of magnitude, so the results should be interesting as they unfold.”  

“Max was a great person to work with,” noted Professor Lee. “No matter what I gave him, he never got really stuck on anything. Max truly loves his work, and he’s very humble. He has a maturity beyond his years, which will serve him well in future endeavors.”  

While Max is unsure about his college choice for next year, he is certain of one thing, “I can’t wait to get to college to just study more physics.”