In a bilingual course, high school students can learn how to program for quantum computers. Two researchers from the QuSoft (established by the University of Amsterdam and CWI) are using this new initiative to introduce students to the kind of mathematics taught at the University.
“Alice has a robotic donkey that she wants to program so that it can find its way to a charging station on its own.” This is how the first homework assignment in the “Quantum Quest” curriculum begins, which teaches high school students to program for the quantum computer. The course guides students through the basics of quantum mechanics, quantum computers, and the special software that runs on quantum computers.
Introduction to mathematics
Where a traditional computer consists of bits – which can be ‘on’ (1) or ‘off’ (0) – a quantum computer consists of quantum bits. Because quantum bits have special properties, quantum computers can solve specific calculations much faster than traditional computers, such as doing calculations on medicines, sending encrypted messages securely, and finding the fastest routes. At the moment there are very few functional quantum computers and the software is still under development.
The idea of the curriculum comes from Maris Ozols and Michael Walter. They are assistant professors at the Korteweg-de Vries Institute for Mathematics and conduct research on quantum algorithms and quantum information theory at the QuSoft research center in Amsterdam. The aim of the course is not primarily to introduce students to programming for the next generation of computers, but to discover the kind of mathematics taught at the university.
Walter: “One of the unique experiences of Quantum Quest is that we teach real math that is fit for a quantum computer. The ambitious goal is: “By the end of the course, students will understand what quantum bits and quantum algorithms are and what they are for.” Of course this means that the course may be a bit more challenging than the students are used to, but we are extremely pleased with the enthusiasm that the 2018 students showed. We hope we will have even more success with the lesson this year.”
Students from home and abroad
After a successful start in 2018, the course is also available for international students this year. Between October 30 and December 11, more than 100 Dutch high school students, 15 teachers, and 20 selected international students will discover about quantum entanglement and quantum circuits. They are supervised by a team of teaching assistants lead by junior teacher Mees de Vries.
Like many University courses, this course is bilingual: the teaching material is in English and the teaching team speaks both Dutch and English. Those interested can also participate from home. The teaching material is freely available on the Quantum Quest website, as is the software with which the students learn how to program.