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Programs What is Best Combo for Quantum Computing? (EE, Physics, CS)

  1. Mar 7, 2016 #1
    To what degree should I study each of these fields in order to be prepared for a career in quantum computing R&D?
    • Electrical Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    I plan to major in all three topics, but with which program(s) should I pursue higher education?

    I realize computer engineering is an option, so if I were to replace EE/CS with CE, should I focus on the hardware or software side?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2016 #2
    I believe there are plenty of different areas within quantum computing, and you should specialize based on which area you'd like to go in. For the actual design and construction of a quantum computer, there are probably opportunities for both electrical engineers and physicists. Computer scientists likely deal with the algorithms that go with quantum computing, I'd guess.
  4. Mar 7, 2016 #3
    I'm sorry for the lack of clarity, and thanks for pointing it out. If I wanted to do something around the lines of finding a way to increase the speed of some large database calculation, from which side should I approach the problem? Tackle the hardware or the software?
  5. Mar 7, 2016 #4
    If you're interested in working on algorithms that quantum computers can utilize--i.e. faster ways to solve problems if you had a quantum computer available, then probably computer science would be best. But don't commit yourself to one thing just yet. Be sure to explore all of your options and see what you like.
  6. Mar 9, 2016 #5


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    There is no Quantum Computing R&D yet; just about everything is fundamental research.
    Hence,. if you want to work with QC you have to go the research route and (most likely) work in academia or at a research institute.
    This means that the "obvious" route would be to study physics and and then get a PhD.
    The "software" side of QC is currently very,very limited and there are only a handful of people actually working on high-level algorithms, for this field you would probably still need a background in physics (albeit with lots of math) since you need a good understanding of quantum mechanics.

    Neither EE of CS would be very useful.
  7. Mar 9, 2016 #6


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    I agree that quantum computing is currently at the fundamental research level, but disagree that CS is not useful. There are research groups in CS working on fundamental algorithmic analyses for quantum computing. See, for example, the website for Scott Aaronson, a CS professor at MIT specializing in research in quantum computing.


    Or consider the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada -- the faculty involved include physicists, applied mathematicians, and computer scientists.

  8. Mar 9, 2016 #7
    So would it be correct to say that the general consensus is: Computer Science leaves more doors open?
    So something like a CS master's and Physics PhD? Or a CS Bachelor's and Physics PhD?
    How far back can you cut on the CS?
  9. Mar 9, 2016 #8


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    There are indeed CS people working on QC algorithms. There are also a few CS people in the UK working on algorithms (Cambridge)
    However, this is still a very sub-field of an already small field meaning I would never advice anyone to do a CS undergraduate degree of they wanted to work on QC.
    Physics or possibly math would be a much safer option (and it is still my no means "safe") and it would still be possible to eventually work on e.g. QC algorithms if you choose the right path during your PhD.

    I have been "indirectly" involved in research on QC for some 15 years now and I probably count one hand the number of people I've met with a CS background; even the people who work on the engineering aspects of e.g. the D-Wave computer (chip designs etc) tend to have PhDs in physics (I know some of them). The "problem" is of course that you need to have a very good understanding of math and quantum mechanics to work in this area they don't teach you the latter in CS or EE.

    Edit: Every single researcher at Waterloo that I am familiar with (I know a few) has a physics background.
  10. Mar 9, 2016 #9
    Thank you so much for this information.
    The conclusion is that EE is a bust, a PhD in Physics is a must, but can a CS bachelor's (alongside a physics one of course) hurt or help me in this research? Am I better off using free time in undergrad to better understand the physics?
  11. Mar 9, 2016 #10
    Are you sure about this? I know several of my EE professors who have taken multiple graduate level QM and solid state courses from the physics department at their schools. I've also looked around and seen several EE departments that have done more physics-oriented work. I'm under the impression that if you want more physics as an EE student, you can get more physics.
  12. Mar 10, 2016 #11


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    There is quite a lot of quantum physics in modern EE, especially if you are working with e.g. III-V semiconductor components or lasers.
    However, nearly all of it can be done with fairly basic QM (for example solving a 1D or 2D SE). The type of QM they teach you in a physics course tend to be abstract and will (usually) include quite a bit more math(I actually studied engineering physics, so I took both types of courses)
    Note that they won't teach you the level of QM you would need to know to do research in ANY course (you would learn this working on an actual problem as a PhD student), but the "right" courses will give you the background necessary for further studies.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2016
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