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Is he the next Nobel Prize winner in physics?

by - 26 July

His discovery settles a 100-year-long heated debate between Bohr, Schrodinger, and Einstein - the chief architects of quantum physics. It has the potential to reshape our core understanding of quantum physics, could shape research and impact our view of nature for decades ahead. Thanks to his work the future quantum computers could solve problems that classical ones could never, not in a million years. He was included in the MIT Technology Review’s global list of 35 Under 35 Innovators. One British media outlet described his experiment as a "scientific earthquake". His work was selected as the top Math and Physical Sciences discovery of the year 2019 by Discover Magazine. He is only 30 years old but has achieved enviable accomplishments and received many awards. His name is Zlatko Minev.
Last year, Minev published the results from his Ph.D. dissertation at Yale in an article in Nature magazine, "To Catch and Reverse a Quantum Jump Mid-Flight." Minev proved not only that we can predict quantum leaps but also control it. His discovery is opening the door to radically new advances to correct the errors bedeviling quantum computers. Quantum errors are likely the biggest hurdle to practical quantum computers.
Minev recieved his Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Yale University, working in the Devoret Quantum Lab. His B.A. in Physics is from UC Berkeley. At the moments he holds a permanent research position at IBM Quantum, at TJ Watson.
Minev is the founder and chairman of the nationwide science outreach organization Open Labs, a recipient of the Yale-Jefferson Award for public service, a Member of the Executive Board of the Yale Graduate Alumni, the host of the IBM Qiskit Quantum Seminar Series on YouTube.

What's the feeling to be compared to Einstein, what is the path to great discoveries and finding answers to unsolvable problems, when can we see mass introduction of quantum computers, will quantum computers make classical ones unnecessary - I discussed these questions with Zlatko Minev. 

Zlatko, MIT compared you to Einstein. What does this recognition mean to you?
For me, it is particularly special because it was Einstein that elevated the quantum jump—the center of my research—from a mere idea (conceived by Niels Bohr) to the very first rule in quantum physics for quantitative dynamics.
Yet, Einstein later opposed precisely what quantum jumps came to epitomize—fundamental, inescapable randomness and unpredictability in quantum physics.
It is reputed that no one can predict the time when an atom will “jump” from one of its discrete energy levels to another—the quantum jump. Einstein went against this as far as to famously write, “God does not play dice with the Universe.”
Quantum jumps precisely epitomize the opposite—fundamental unpredictability and fundamental discreteness. These are two core pillars that set quantum apart from our classical world, that of our everyday life experience.
Another chief architect of quantum, Schrödinger, also famously opposed the character of quantum jumps. He refused to believe such abrupt and truly discrete physical phenomena could exist in the quantum world. He became quite upset about it and even wrote in a publication “If all this damned quantum jumping were really here to stay, I should be sorry I ever got involved with quantum theory.”
Yet, quantum jumps are now routinely observed in the character often attributed to Bohr, not Einstein and Schrödinger. Jumps have not only stayed with us for more than 100 years, they have become a mainstay ingredient of quantum technologies, such as quantum error correction for quantum computers.
However, now, as Nature, the scientific journal that published my paper “To catch and reverse a quantum jump mid-flight,” based on my dissertation results, wrote that my research overturns the purported view of the instantaneous and unpredictable nature of quantum jumps—to show that, instead, they have a real underlying trajectory and level of predictability that allows them to be controlled.

Nature Headquarters, London
What does your dissertation achieve? What is its meaning for society?
As mentioned above, Nature, where my dissertation results are published, summarizes the scientific significance “[The] Experiment overturns Bohr’s view of quantum jumps, demonstrating that they possess a degree of predictability and when completed are continuous, coherent and even deterministic.”
The experiment I proposed and carried out at Yale University shows that we can now zoom in on the dynamics of the jump in a way that until now has been impossible.
The jump from the ground state to an excited state of an atom can be tracked as it follows what essentially is a predictable, continuous, smooth ‘flight’.
I like to give the analogy that quantum jumps of an atom are somewhat analogous to the eruption of a volcano. They are completely unpredictable in the long term. Nonetheless, with the correct monitoring we can with certainty detect an advance warning of an imminent disaster and act on it before it has occurred.
While quantum jumps appear unpredictable and discrete (as Bohr thought) on long timescales, they are in fact continuous (as Schrodinger suggested) and can possess a degree of predictability (somewhat in the spirit of Einstein) on a short time scale.
Their seemingly opposed viewpoints coexist.
Scientifically, my work in predicting and reversing a quantum jump settles a hundred-year-long heated debate between Bohr, Schrodinger, and Einstein—the chief architects of quantum physics.
A surprising conclusion emerges: They all were both right and wrong at the same time.
Predicting the jumps could reshape our core understanding of the quantum realm and could shape research and impact our view of nature for decades ahead.

Yale, Q-Lab

How can your discovery contribute to the mass introduction of quantum computers? 
Technologically, my discovery led to the most sensitive and time-resolved quantum measurements and feedback to date, which helps pave the way to greatly improved quantum sensing technology.
Exploiting this, we can now anticipate a jump near-perfectly before it even occurs—opening the door to radically new advances to correct the errors bedeviling quantum computers.
Quantum errors are likely the biggest hurdle to practical quantum computers. The special character that makes quantum devices able to perform feats unattainable by their classical counterparts, coherence and entanglement, are very precarious. Errors inevitably, randomly, and unpredictably occur. These errors quickly corrupt the delicate quantum state of a quantum bit (qubit)—the basic building block of quantum computer. These errors derail the quantum calculation.
The errors are generally some type of a quantum jump. If we can anticipate the occurrence of an error (a quantum jump) before it does occur and propagates to corrupt the entire quantum computation, then we could potentially innerve to reverse it before its detrimental impact, just as demonstrated in my experiment for a single qubit.

IBM Q System One

You are a researcher at IBM Quantum. Earlier this year, IBM introduced the first quantum computer for business. In which industries do you see the greatest opportunities for application?
Perhaps I can give a little bit of background.
The first-ever quantum computing device to be accessible outside a lab and over the cloud to people worldwide came online in 2016. This first five-qubit chip and online quantum experience was developed by IBM. Rather quickly, since 2017, IBM has offered commercial-ready quantum computers over the cloud. The network of users of these quantum devices has grown since then. It is now called the IBM Q Network. It includes more than 100 organizations, Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, research labs, and startups from all over the world.
This month, we announced the expansion of the IBM Quantum Computation Center, with 20 systems available over the cloud to our users, including eight with Quantum Volume of 32, and a 53-qubit system – the largest commercially available system. The IBM Q Network organizations collaborate with us – as well as one another – very closely on use cases important to their respective industries. For example, Daimler is working with us on battery chemistry. JPMorgan is working with us on financial portfolio optimization. And last year, IBM and one of Europe's leading organization for applied research, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft announced an agreement to partner in the area of quantum computing with the goal of advancing the research and experimentation in Germany. The cooperation aims to drive the creation of a new community for industry and application-oriented quantum computation strategies. An IBM Q System One will be located in an IBM facility in Germany. It will be the first installation of its kind in Europe. The goal of all of this research is to develop applications with a quantum advantage for science and business.

What are the biggest challenges facing the mass penetration of quantum computers at the moment?As described above, I think the main technical challenge is probably due to quantum errors.
More broadly, I think training the future generation of quantum physicist, developer, and information scientists is a very important and a key ingredient to the success of quantum computers. This is where I spend a lot of my time too. At Yale, I started Open Labs, a nation-wide science outreach organization, and now at IBM I host the publicly-open quantum live seminar series on YouTube, and will teach at a two-week-long summer school at the end of the month—Qiskit Global Summer School.
The summer school, which begins on July 20, is free and open to anyone to attend. It is the first digital, global summer school in quantum computing, and the biggest I have ever heard of. I think we have already crossed more than 5,000 signups before the application deadline of July 10.

At Yale, Zlatko Minev started Open Labs, a nation-wide science outreach organization
According to some experts, quantum computers will make classical ones unnecessary. Are these comments justified? 
Rather, I think quantum computers will revolutionize and compliment classical ones. A future quantum computer will solve the problems that classical computers could never, not in a million years, hope to solve. We call these problems intractable. A prime example is that of factoring in cryptography or full-simulation of atoms in quantum chemistry, material, and other quantum physical phenomena.

Has your personal "quantum leap" on your path from Berkeley, Stanford, Yale and IBM Research to these outstanding discoveries been controlled?
No, rather there is a very curious story to the origin of my dissertation work on quantum jumps.
It all starts unplanned in Scotland. As a graduate student, I decided to attend a summer school there. A famous theoretical physicist, H. Carmichael, presented a thought experiment that could in theory test some of these ideas about the nature of quantum jumps. However, he ended his talk with the unfortunate conclusion that this is all very nice, but it’s all just theory. We don’t actually know what really happens. Worse, we won’t be able to know since testing this question continues to remain far beyond the reach of experimental physics for the foreseeable future.
I was very excited and inspired by this talk, because based on some recent work I had done during my PhD, I thought that maybe there is a way to design an experiment to test this key question and find out what really happens. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all night, developing my ideas. After the Summer School I arrived in Sofia to visit my grandparents, and spent ten days in vigorous calculations, stimulations, and so on … The results of these supported my initial ideas.
When I came back to the Yale University, I excitedly presented my ideas. But they were rejected, and I was told it’s is too hard, we shouldn’t do this, it’s impossible, won’t work, etc. Still, over the next 6 months I was able to convince my colleagues that yes, it can work, it should work, and we should do this. Of course, I am glad today to report that it did work and this brings us here today.
I recall the very first time I presented the talk at our lab group meeting. One of my very good colleagues stood up in the middle of my talk, front and center, and started shouting at me: “If this is true, then quantum physics is broken!!!”
When he finished whipping his patently pointed index finger at me, I knew I was either onto a total disaster or something very important.

You say that you like to get involved and solve problems that seemed unsolvable. Does this motivate you to move forward - the desire to discover first? 
No, I think discovering things first is more a byproduct.
I am rather drawn by doing something that can help the community. That’s why I find it fulfilling to focus on a problem that is considered roadblock or seems impossible. It’s challenging and can potentially have a tremendous unlocking potential by gaining deep knowledge about it to unlock a way to get through it.
My grandfather used to say, “There are no unsolvable problems, there are only paths along which they cannot be solved.”

Tell us a little more about yourself - were you born in Bulgaria, how did you get to the USA?
I was born in Sofia, and studied there until 6th grade. I recall that outside of school, I attended extra math classes at the Sofia Math High-School (SMG); great fun.
I came to the US about 20 years ago, landing in California. My mother studies the human brain, as a neuroscientist. She was invited for a great collaboration in San Francisco.
To start school in California, I was tested for grade placement. They moved me up from 6th into 7th grade, skipping a year. When I showed up to school, kids were confused because I was already very tall. At first sight, they thought I got held back a grade instead, but was younger than them. I continued with science in this new environment, and the next year I won first place in the nationwide HP and Scholastic Create a Calculator contest, and in the following few years I won first place at the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair, a silver medal at the California State Science Fair, etc.
While still in high school, I was accepted at a Summer College at Stanford University, where I made my professional choice - physics, as I realized it is the most fundamental of the sciences. Thus, for college, I went to UC Berkeley, in San Francisco Bay Area, majoring in physics. It was here that I got excited by the unique synergy of computing and quantum physics, my big two passions. I started work in a quantum computing laboratory my freshman summer. I spent most of the summer in and around the lab. Quantum and I have stayed in love since.
Yale University Graduation, Ph.D. 2018

For my doctorate, I choose Yale University. It is perhaps a birthplace of superconducting quantum computing and has some of the leading university labs in my field. Outside of lab, I started the Open Labs organization, was the longest serving senator on the Yale Gradate & Professional Student Senate, was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, the third oldest learned institution in the United States, received the Yale-Jefferson Award for public service, etc.
After my quantum jump dissertation I joined IBM Quantum. Here I continue in this path, devising new ways toward full realization of quantum computing; scientific research that can help the growth of this new industry. At the same, the new technology we develop provides new ways to explore quantum on a deeper level. At IBM Quantum, in addition to the core research I do, and leading larger-scale projects, I continue teaching (see upcoming summer school lectures), science outreach, hosting live academic quantum information seminars on Qiskit YouTube, and building the quantum community.

Yale-Jefferson Public Service Award

Do you know the scientific and technological circles in Bulgaria?
The quantum community in particular is rather geographically distributed. The papers I read and the people I stay connected with come from all parts of the world. I stay connected with the folks that are part of this quantum community.
I would also like to invite young developers and scientists from Bulgaria interested in quantum computing to engage in the community online. The Qiskit Global Summer School I mentioned earlier, where I’ll lecture on quantum computers, will be made freely available online on YouTube. The lectures will stay online for viewing and discussion. To follow up on the lectures, at IBM, I also contributed to creating the open-source Qiskit Textbook on quantum computing, which provides many hands-on experiments people can run on real quantum chips, from their home.

Most young people consider science boring. How can it be made attractive to them?
Yale Senate
This landscape is shifting.
Science and technology aren’t distant, remote things anymore. You can now easily engage in a youthful science community, even from your home. You can be part of the fast-changing world of science.
Let me give you two examples.
First, quantum computing. A superconducting quantum computing setup costs millions. Nevertheless, you can go right now and use one from your home, almost as if you are sitting in a lab, and its free. I know that at IBM Quantum these devices have already been accessed by 250,000+ registered users. What’s even more important is that a young student can join the very dynamic, youthful, and growing community. The community provides access to free education, career pathways, and many social events, such as Qiskit hackathons, and other challenges. You can go skiing in Aspen with all these other young interested people, or help organize a local meetup.
There are many such fun, social, educational activates that also inherently build professional skills, open career pathways, and connect beginners with professionals. These opportunities can help showcase how dynamic and exciting life in science and quantum in particular can be.
Second, I can share my experience with a science outreach organization like Open Labs, which I founded in 2012 and continue to chair today. Open Labs aims to make science education and career paths open and accessible to young kids and families from difficult and underserved backgrounds, showing young kids what it’s like to step into the shoes of young scientist. Open Labs helps show young kids why science is cool, why it matters, how it will change the world of tomorrow, but more importantly, how it can be a viable career and life trajectory for them. Our events started small and soon grew up to large numbers, so we had to start wait-listing for kids and families, guaranteeing open acceptance to future events. I think this is a positive testament to the efforts of young scientists volunteering to communicate their passion to the broader public. Open Labs spread from Yale University to Penn, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, and has reached over 5,000 kids and parents across the North-East. It is just one example in a larger trend that increases education access, excitement with and career pathways to science.

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