Harker alumnus delivers introduction to quantum computing

Rishab+Parthasarathy+%2812%29+and+Alex+Hu+%2812%29+help+guide+questions+and+relay+them+to+Anand+Natarajan+%2809%29.+The+upper+school+Programming+Club+and+Math+Club+invited+Natarajan+to+speak+about+quantum+computing+in+the+Nichols+auditorium+on+Wednesday.

Sabrina Zhu

Rishab Parthasarathy (12) and Alex Hu (12) help guide questions and relay them to Anand Natarajan (’09). The upper school Programming Club and Math Club invited Natarajan to speak about quantum computing in the Nichols auditorium on Wednesday.

by Margaret Cartee, Reporter

The Math Club and Programming Club hosted Harker alumnus and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Anand Natarajan (‘09) for a speaker event on quantum computing after school on Wednesday in the Nichols Auditorium.

Presenting over Zoom, Natarajan began the event by covering the terms that he would use throughout the rest of the presentation and discussed classical and quantum computers. Quantum computing applies concepts from quantum physics to computer science.

Quantum computers are unique because their qubits, which are units of information for quantum computers, can exist in two states at one time. For example, one qubit can be either 1, 0 or a superposition of both instead of just 1 or 0, which is the norm for classical computers. Based on the number of qubits, quantum computers have the ability to handle increasingly more calculations at an exponential rate. 

Natarajan then explained probability and states in relation to quantum computers, creating an interactive experience by asking the audience questions and providing examples. To cement abstract topics, Natarajan also used diagrams like a Bloch sphere, a visual representation of a qubit. To conclude the content-heavy section of his lecture, he examined Grover’s Algorithm and different algorithms used in quantum computing. 

“The whole name of the game in quantum computing is to try to find paths that you can somehow solve faster by a pure number of operations, if you’re allowed to do these rotations and so on, that you can just do them with a randomized computer,” Natarajan said.

After an interactive Q&A session, Natarajan ended with a description of his career, starting with his experiences at Harker. After high school, he attended Stanford and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics, returning for a master’s degree in computer science. Natarajan later earned his PhD in Physics at MIT, where he then became an assistant professor. Programming Club president Rishab Parthasarathy (12) appreciated learning about Natarajan’s journey.

It’s really great to see someone who was once in the same position as us, to see someone who has reached success. First of all, it provides a role model but also provides an example people can emulate by seeing someone who has done [the same thing] you can learn from what his experiences and what his perspectives are.”

— Rishab Parthasarathy (12), Programming Club co-president

“It’s really great to see someone who was once in the same position as us, to see someone who has reached success,” Rishab said. “First of all, it provides a role model but also provides an example people can emulate by seeing someone who has done [the same thing] you can learn from what his experiences and what his perspectives are.”

Alex Hu (12), president of Math Club, values quantum computing because it allows students to see real-life applications of math class and offers more exciting possibilities for mathematically-inclined students.

“It’s great to see how quantum computing is grounded in a lot of math, and so when people study math, they understand how math is really powerful and how it has applications to change our world,” Alex said.

As someone who was new to the concept of quantum computing, Olivia Xu (10), a member of the Programming Club and a lecturer and curriculum designer for the Math Club, expressed her interest to learn more about quantum computing in the future.

“I was able to get the basic gist of quantum computing, and I think after the talk, I definitely want to look more into it because I think it’s really cool how it combines math and physics and computer science,” Olivia said.

To end the speaker event, Natarajan encouraged the attendees to explore their options broadly before college and push the boundaries of their fields.

“Luck favors prepared people,” Natarajan said. “So, you want to maximize the chances that luck works at your advantage, so you should try to be aware of all the open problems in your field, all the possible connections, and eventually something amazing might turn up.”

A previous version of this article misspelled Anand Natarajan’s last name as Ratarajan in the feature photo. The article has been updated on Dec. 6, 2021, to reflect the correction of this error.