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OU prof discusses quantum computation, mathematics, pinball machines


By Ryan Powers

Zijian Diao, Ph.D, speaks at the CMSS colloquium on Nov. 21. (By Calvin Mattheis)

Zijian Diao, Ph.D, speaks at the CMSS colloquium on Nov. 21. (By Calvin Mattheis)

Walter Hall recently hosted Zijian Diao, Ph.D., to talk about an upcoming technology known as quantum computation. Students and professors alike attended the colloquium organized by the Condensed Matter and Surface Science Program out of Ohio University‘s Department of Physics.

Diao, a mathematics professor at Ohio University Eastern Campus in St Clairsville, Ohio, discussed the basics of quantum computation, the mathematical questions it raises and its possible real-world applications.

Quantum computation, according to Diao, introduces probability to computation. By using probability and by implementing equations that return highly probably correct answers, quantum computation can find answers faster than traditional computation.

“If you indeed have a quantum computer, with which you can implement that (quantum computation), then every search problem can be done faster, and search problems are everywhere,” Diao said.

Diao used the example of encryption to explain.

“When you send information over the internet, most of it – if you don’t want your identity stolen – (is) encrypted. The most frequently used encryption method is called ISA protocol, and that algorithm is a very good algorithm, which depends on the assumption that a big integer is very hard to factor,” Diao said. “There’s no way you can crack it in your lifetime, but if you have a quantum computer, you can crack that easily.”

Although quantum computation would eliminate the usefulness for traditional encryption methods, Diao said it would also introduce new ways to encrypt data.

As of now, quantum computation is discussed mainly in terms of difficult-to-understand mathematical equations. Ethan Albert, OU sophomore and electrical engineering major, hopes to naturalize quantum computation and how it works into the vocabulary of the common populace.

“I’d love to research and try to make it a more natural thing, something you can have in the house,” Albert said. “Someone did bring up a really good question about how no one really knows how to program this. The equation he used is kind of hard to understand and hard to derive for different problems. So I’d like to find a way to incorporate it, so people (can) understand it better.”

Meanwhile, Diao offered his own analogy of quantum computation by comparing computation to a pinball machine. Diao said traditional computation is like a pinball machine with no obstacles or objects to obstruct the ball’s path. Quantum computation adds these objects to the game, which Diao said makes the results more “surprising.” The use of quantum computation, then, is to know how to hit the ball just right, so it can use the objects of probability to its advantage, thus reaching its target more quickly than traditional computation could. 

Research continues and debates ensue, but many students and qualified experts agree on the potential and excitement regarding the future of quantum computation.

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3 thoughts on “OU prof discusses quantum computation, mathematics, pinball machines

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