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Quantum Computing Captivates NERSC Summer Student

September 12, 2022

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Dhilan Nag

When COVID-19 first interrupted our lives two years ago Dhilan Nag was a high school freshman in Richardson, Texas who was already drawn to math and science.

But the COVID-19 pause opened new opportunities for Nag to explore a variety of science applications and technologies online, including binge watching YouTube videos about quantum mechanics, starting with a short video on Schrödinger’s cat.

It also led him to an internship at NERSC this year and a budding future in quantum computing.

“I wanted to explore quantum computing further, so I conducted independent research about quantum hardware for the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair,” Nag said. “However, I wanted to connect myself to the larger quantum world, so I spent about a month parsing the Internet for summer research opportunities in quantum computing, and Berkeley Lab showed up multiple times.”

During his time working with NERSC’s Katie Klymko and Nick Wright in the Advanced Technologies Group, Nag focused on developing hybrid classical-quantum algorithms for calculating energies in models for strongly correlated materials. Part of this was learning basic techniques for dealing with quantum systems classically and then trying to implement quantum versions in IBM's quantum software language, Klymko noted.

“I was essentially trying to improve the convergence of a particular quantum method called the variational quantum eigensolver, which is a hybrid (quantum-classical) algorithm to calculate energies,” Nag explained. “The bigger impact of this research is that quantum computing is the next step into chemical simulations. If we can accurately simulate behaviors of molecules, we can more efficiently discover new chemical systems. And if we do that, we can reduce the cost of creating new drugs and new materials.”

Nag described his summer working with the Lab as “primarily pedagogical.”

“I learned a lot about concepts like the Hubbard model, which approximates interactions between fermions,” he said. “I programmed a Hubbard model and put it in a VQE to calculate its ground state energy at different layers. The results I found fluctuated quite a bit, so I plan to work with Katie more to understand what these results mean.”

While Nag worked remotely most of the summer, he did have the opportunity to spend a week in Berkeley. And now that he is applying for college, UC Berkeley is on his short list; he is eyeing a major in electrical engineering and a minor in physics.

“My time in Berkeley felt very immersive, and I got to experience the scientific world as a high schooler. I could walk down to the Pitzer Center and Café Strada, then go uphill to the Lab,” he said. “I could be in the community like a local but also be immersed in the research like the students. It is a beautiful campus with a lot of great resources.”

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery. Researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.