Grainger Engineering Physics student wins Big Q Hackathon, expands appreciation for quantum computing

10/13/2023 1:29:03 PM Chanel Fraction

Toward the end of September, Rajas Chari – a fourth year Physics PhD student at The Grainger College of Engineering with a research focus on condensed matter physics (CMT) – was part of the winning team at the Big Q Hackathon, hosted by the Chicago Quantum Exchange and Quant X.

The event lasted for four days and consisted of two parts.

In the first “Technical Phase,” nine teams competed against each other to develop quantum solutions for industry use-cases provided. Companies that gave cases included Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Mayo Clinic, United Airlines, Boing, Capgemini, CSL, General Atomics and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

According to Chari, this was the hardest part.

“One of the most challenging tasks was to reformulate the provided use case problem into a form amenable to quantum computing-based solutions, or at the very least, heuristic solutions that could run effectively on a quantum computing platform” he said.

Chari currently researches topological phases of matter but plans to expand his curiosity – a notion only further embedded following the competition.

“Attending this event has given me a greater appreciation for the field of quantum computing and its relation to condensed matter physics,” he said. “After the event, I will make an effort to study this overlapping area between the fields of condensed matter theory (CMT) and quantum information theory.”

Photo of group of Hackaton members
Left to right: Dr. Ian Njoroge (Senior scientist/chemical engineer - CSL Behring; Victory Omole (Quantum software engineer - Infleqtion); Shivam Mundhra (Undergrad - UChicago); Bao Bach (Graduate student - University of Delaware); Carlo Siebenschuh (Graduate student - UChicago); Rajas Chari (UIUC); Kabir Dubey (Undergrad - UChicago); Rohan Mehta (Undergrad - UChicago)

Only five teams advanced to the second part, the” Business Phase,” where they were asked to develop business plans and pitch them to a panel of judges for the last two days.

“The solution we proposed during the hackathon was based on the Ising model, which is one of the most ubiquitously studied models in CMT,” Chari said.

He also pointed to the diversity of his own team, and the entire event, as contributing factors to his own motivation during the hackathon and a factor in the victory.

“My team was composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds, which greatly enriched our problem-solving approach with fresh perspectives from each member,” Chari said. “This diversity fostered a collaborative environment throughout the hackathon. We strategically allocated tasks based on our respective specializations.”

Alongside his team, he gives credit to his past professors at the university for his success.

“I am grateful to the professors who taught me about the theory and implementation of quantum computing algorithms, in particular professor Bryan Clark from the Anthony J Leggett Institute for Condensed Matter Theory and professor Makarand Sinha from the Computer Science department,” Chari said.