Daochen Wang

New faculty member brings quantum computation focus to department

The University of British Columbia (UBC) Computer Science department has recently welcomed a new faculty member, Dr. Daochen Wang, who specializes in Quantum Computation. 

Dr. Wang spent his formative years in China and the United Kingdom, then went on to complete his PhD in Applied Mathematics under advisors Dr. Andrew Childs and Dr. Carl Miller at the University of Maryland in the United States, graduating in May of this year. He moved to Vancouver to start as an Assistant Professor with the department this October.

What is Quantum Computation?

Dr. Wang explains the fundamental difference between classical and quantum computation, "A quantum computation is like a classical randomized computation, except the probabilities involved can not only add but also subtract. This subtle distinction is not merely an academic abstraction but allows quantum computers to solve certain types of problems much faster and in an entirely novel manner.”

He adds that a common misconception about quantum computation is that it can speed up the solution of any problem. Rather, only some real-world problems can be solved in an accelerated manner thanks to quantum computation. Dr. Wang’s research focuses on identifying which real-world problems can be advantageously solved and, equally as importantly, understanding the limitations of quantum approaches.

He cites his recent work, “Quantum divide and conquer” which demonstrates that quantum speed-ups can occur not just at the level of individual problems, but across entire problem-solving strategies. On the other hand, his earlier work showed that problems with too many symmetries cannot be solved much faster quantumly. During his time in graduate school, Daochen was awarded two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to develop quantum algorithms. He used the first grant from NSF QISE-NET to construct near-optimal quantum algorithms for reinforcement learning in collaboration with researchers at Microsoft. The second grant comes from the NSF Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation and he is using it to find end-to-end applications of quantum algorithms for linear systems and differential equations.

A notable aspect of Daochen’s background is his membership of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, which is a partnership between the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST is the US governmental agency responsible for standardizing new cryptographic protocols resistant to quantum attacks. “As the world grapples with evolving cybersecurity challenges, the potential impact of quantum computation in this domain is particularly striking,” he said.

UBC's proactive approach to quantum research provides a natural next step for Dr. Wang. The university hosts the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, where faculty work on building components of quantum computers, and the Quantum Computing Research Cluster, which brings together faculty from many departments, including Computer Science, Physics, and Mathematics. Moreover, UBC is a key partner of the Quantum Algorithms Institute, a multi-million dollar initiative of the British Columbian government to grow the quantum computing industry in the province. “During my time at UBC,” said Dr. Wang, “I'd expect quantum hardware to mature enough to an extent where maybe at the end of five years, we can use them to gain practical quantum advantage.”

Dr. Wang also points out that UBC’s geographical proximity to a plethora of industrial labs along the Pacific West Coast (including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and many startup companies) makes knowledge exchange easy. He sees collaboration between academia and industry as mutually beneficial and important for the sustainable development of quantum computation.

For UBC Computer Science, Daochen Wang is a key addition. With his keen focus on practical applications and a clear understanding of the nuances of quantum computation, he is poised to make substantial contributions to both academia and industry in the years to come.