As quantum physicist Sheldon Cooper described in the veteran American sitcom, my father’s favorite show, The Big Bang Theory, I was quite frightened by the term “quantum computing” when I was young. Whenever his slate with intricate work was shown, I would think that I could never enter the field.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school, when I was studying quantum computing research. Now I scare people with that term.
For most computer science enthusiasts, quantum computing is very exciting. Where the binary bit is at 0 or 1, quantum computing allows the qubit to be both 0 and 1 at the same time, increasing power exponentially. But what about those who aren’t all about coding?
According to a 2020 analysis by Interference Advisors, of the 46% of women in STEM, only 10% are involved in quantum startups. To bridge the gap, we must work to introduce the field to women at a younger age. Awareness of the concept that quantum computing is a tool to apply to science, not science itself, is a way—a golden ticket, if you will—to target a versatile demographic.
Quantum computing offers potential solutions for a wide range of industries beyond computer science, such as artificial intelligence, biology, chemistry, meteorology and finance.
But the most significant problem on the pitch is the fear of the pitch rather than the difficulty. Organizations like The Coding School, which offers courses in quantum computing for high school students, are one of many initiatives aimed at reducing the scary stigma.
For this reason, when I first co-founded my organization, qMe, my motivation was my regret for not discovering this field sooner. Targeted at high school students, my goal is to encourage younger students to push themselves further.
What I somehow failed to anticipate was the innate fear that students have, as I did the first time around. These students’ initial fear of the looming term “quantum computing” overtook their potential. Seeing their stress over the mere diagnostic test made me realize that there were more pressing issues to be addressed.
The solution? Interest and open-mindedness. The main reason why many young students are afraid of quantum computing is because they don’t feel excited enough to tackle the challenge. My goal? To show them that they are.
I spend time in each class allowing everyone to brainstorm something they are interested in, unrelated to quantum computing. After that step is completed, then the quantum aspect is brought in by discussing how quantum technology can be included in this interest. With this attitude in mind, more than 80 blog articles were submitted by seventh and eighth graders on the many applications of quantum in less than five months. Through the articles written by these young students, I see their passion; agriculture, medicine development, and even games.
The first same student was not convinced. The same students who would have never believed that this topic was even remotely related to quantum computing in the first place.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the National Quantum Initiative, which pays special attention to quantum technology over a ten-year period. Despite beneficial measures aimed at significantly increasing investment, there are no concrete solutions to dispelling the stigma around the field. In my generation, quantum computing still resonates. Graduate programs are starting to increase their quantum education presence, but even undergraduate programs are still scarce in the field. When I wanted to apply to college, I felt desperate to find one that could provide me with the resources I needed to further my passion. My hope is that, by the time my high school students reach the college application process, they can have multiple options for quantum computing. But this is impossible without proper awareness.
So why high school students? The earlier, the better. The goal of educating seventh graders about quantum computing is not to get them to make concrete algorithms or research studies, but rather to simply show that understanding something is possible, even if it is a basic understanding of what superposition is.
In fact, even a curious elementary school student can get their feet wet in quantum computing. At a recent qMe summer camp I hosted, a freshman was in second grade, which made me doubt what he could learn without stress.
So I asked him what he would like to learn about quantum computing. There isn’t anything.
Then I asked him what he liked studying. planets.
That’s the golden ticket.
At the end of the one-week camp, he wrote his own article on quantum computing in astronomy.
These kids weren’t geniuses or prodigies; they are only given directions at a young age. The method in which they are given direction is through their passion.
As a junior high school student, my eyes were opened to how our community needs to incorporate quantum computing into our youth with passion in mind. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is our ultimate goal – to get more involvement in quantum computing.
But the golden ticket is the arousal method, where we have a pitstop on what appeals to them before moving on to what seems daunting. Improving statistics in the world of quantum computing is about the game we play for students who are afraid of this field. I’ve had this same fear, but overcoming it is critical for a promising field.
Universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University have leading quantum computing programs, but we need to bring joy to life from high school, and even earlier. Whether they are reluctant neighbors, students, clients, or staunch fans of The Big Bang Theory, our most difficult topics are often not the most difficult to understand, but the most difficult to empower our communities to join.
Akshita Tiwari is one of the founders what am i, an organization whose goal is to teach high school quantum computing and research. He has done quantum computing research throughout his high school career, attended the MIT URTC 2022 and published in IEEE. He plans to make his own startup in quantum computing a career both during and after college.