C-Level View | Feature
Quantum Computing for the Next Generation of Computer Scientists and Researchers
A Q&A with Travis Humble
Travis Humble is a distinguished scientist and director of the Quantum Computing Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The institute is a lab-wide organization that brings together all of ORNL’s capabilities to address the development of quantum computers. Humble is also an academic, holding a joint faculty appointment at the University of Tennessee, where he is an assistant professor with the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. In the following Q&A, Humble gives CT his unique perspectives on the advancement of quantum computing and its entry into higher education curricula and research.
“It’s an exciting area that’s largely understaffed. There are far more opportunities than there are people currently qualified to approach quantum computing.”
Mary Grush: Working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a scientist and at the University of Tennessee as an academic, you are in a remarkable position to watch both the development of the field of quantum computing and its growing importance in higher education curricula and research. First, let me ask about your role at the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. The Bredesen Center draws on resources from both ORNL and UT. Does the center help move quantum computing into the realm of higher education?
Travis Humble: Yes. The point of the Bredesen Center is to do interdisciplinary research, to educate graduate students, and to address the interfaces and frontiers of science that don’t fall within the conventional departments.
For me, those objectives are strongly related to my role at the laboratory, where I am a scientist working in quantum information. And the joint work ORNL and UT do in quantum computing is training the next generation of the workforce that’s going to be able to take advantage of the tools and research that we’re developing at the laboratory.
Grush: Are ORNL and UT connected to bring students to the national lab to experience quantum computing?
Humble: They are so tightly connected that it works very well for us to have graduate students onsite performing research in these topics, while at the same time advancing their education through the university.
Grush: How does ORNL’s Quantum Computing Institute, where you are director, promote quantum computing?
Humble: As part of my work with the Quantum Computing Institute, I manage research portfolios and direct resources towards our most critical needs at the moment. But I also use that responsibility as a gateway to get people involved with quantum computing: It’s an exciting area that’s largely understaffed. There are far more opportunities than there are people currently qualified to approach quantum computing.
The institute is a kind of storefront through which people from many different areas of science and engineering can become involved in quantum computing. It is there to help them get involved.
Grush: Let’s get a bit of perspective on quantum computing — why is it important?
Humble: Quantum computing is a new approach to the ways we could build computers and solve problems. This approach uses quantum mechanics that support the most fundamental theories of physics. We’ve had a lot of success in understanding quantum mechanics — it’s the technology that lasers, transistors, and a lot of things that we rely on today were built on.
But it turns out there’s a lot of untapped potential there: We could take further advantage of some of the features of quantum physics, by building new types of technologies.