The New Quantum Era

In this episode, Kevin and Sebastian are joined by Alex Keesling, CEO of QuEra Computing, for a discussion about his work with neutral atom arrays for simulation and computation. Alex describes his very early introduction to quantum information science as a high school student in Mexico, which kicked off a defining fascination with the field. At MIT as an undergraduate he started working with photonic systems, and as a PdD student with Misha Lukin at Harvard he played an instrumental role in the "atom array" project that eventually was spun out as QuEra. Today, QuEra's Aquila device has 256 atoms in its array that can be used as for analog Hamiltonian simulations, and is accessible on the cloud via AWS' Braket service. Alex explains in detail how these devices work, what physics breakthroughs they rely on for their operation, and where they may be going in the future with work underway on digital gates for universal computation. Additionally Alex takes us through some of the incredible scientific results these devices have already made possible, and discusses what the future of both scientific and commercial applications might hold.

The QuEra team published a deep dive into their Aquila device and its capabilities in a paper called Aquila: QuEra's 256-qubit neutral-atom quantum computer

Creators & Guests

Kevin Rowney
Sebastian Hassinger🌻
Business development #QuantumComputing @AWScloud Opinions mine, he/him.
Alexander Keesling
Dr. Alex Kessling is QuEra's CEO and an expert in quantum computing and quantum simulation with neutral atoms. He obtained his doctorate in physics at Harvard, in the group of QuEra's co-founder Mikhail Lukin. During his PhD he pioneered the development of programmable Rydberg atom arrays into a leading technology for quantum information processing.
Omar Costa Hamido
OCH is a performer, composer, and technologist, working primarily in multimedia and improvisation. His current research is on quantum computing and music composition, telematics, and multimedia. He is passionate about emerging technology, cinema, teaching, and performing new works. He earned his PhD in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology at University of California, Irvine with his research project Adventures in Quantumland ( He also earned his MA in Music Theory and Composition at ESMAE-IPP Portugal with his research on the relations between music and painting. In recent years, his work has been recognized with grants and awards from MSCA, Fulbright, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Medici, Beall Center for Art+Technology, and IBM.

What is The New Quantum Era?

Your hosts, Sebastian Hassinger and Kevin Rowney, interview brilliant research scientists, software developers, engineers and others actively exploring the possibilities of our new quantum era. We will cover topics in quantum computing, networking and sensing, focusing on hardware, algorithms and general theory. The show aims for accessibility - neither of us are physicists! - and we'll try to provide context for the terminology and glimpses at the fascinating history of this new field as it evolves in real time.

Kevin Rowney 0:31
Welcome back, our guest today is Alex Keesling, the CEO of QuEra, a leader in the field of neutral atom qubit systems. This particular qubit architecture, these neutral atom systems is based upon essentially these atoms trapped inside magnetic fields and cooled down by carefully tuned lasers. At that subatomic level, these neutral atoms are then excited to what are called Rydberg states that push the outermost electron of an atom into a higher energy orbital that creates quantum mechanical interactions that give rise to this powerful qubit behavior.

Sebastian Hassinger 1:10
Yeah, Kevin, I'm, as always, excited about this episode. But in particular, what excites me about the QuEra device in this conversation with Alex is that it really is, along with other participants in the new neutral atom space from inflection, as we heard from Dana Anderson in a previous episode, and others, Pasqal and in Europe, in particular, these devices are now reaching the threshold that really starts to capitalize on the promise that Richard Feynman sort of outlined in the Endicott conference, so that his keynote there in 1981, where he was saying that, you know, if you want to simulate a nature, you need to be able to simulate a quantum system. And these devices can, in fact, do that using analog Hamiltonian simulations to represent the time evolution of other quantum systems. So they have delivered scientific breakthroughs using this device that the QuEra device is based on in the Harvard lab, where it came out of, and there's a lot of promise for the breakthroughs that it'll provide in the future as well. So I'm really excited to hear more from Alex on that good stuff. All right. Well, here we go.

Kevin Rowney 3:01
Welcome back, we're here today with Alex Keesling, CEO of QuEra, a leading provider of neutral atom qubit technology in quantum computing. Alex has a bachelor's degree from MIT where he was at the Center for Ultra Cold atoms, doing many fascinating experiments, and then was in the Ph. D. Program at Harvard from 2014. Until 2021. Alex, welcome to the new quantum era.

Alex Keesling 3:27
Thank you so much, Kevin, it's great to be here.

Kevin Rowney 3:29
Well, I'm wondering I good. I think a startup for many of our conversations is to hear a little bit more detail about your specific journey right into the whole quantum computing ecosystem. Just an interesting system going on right now. So it's happening. How did you become attracted to this field and develop your interest?

Alex Keesling 3:49
Yeah, that's a great question. I love talking about this. It really started early on for me, when I was in high school, I got exposed to the concept of quantum computing. I found it fascinating. I can't say that I really understood much about it. I mean, I was trying to learn, you know, what matrix multiplication was at the same time that I was trying to learn quantum computing. But, you know, conceptually, it just sounded fascinating.I was in Mexico at this point, I was born and raised there. And I applied to colleges, because I thought that, you know, to study physics, because I thought that this would be just a significant technology that could change society. And I came to MIT, to Boston in 2009. You know, very eager to learn everything I had to learn about physics and to start working with quantum computers. And when I started asking around how I could get involved with you know, programming quantum computers, I heard that quantum computers were a wonderful abstract concept that did not exist as a physical reality yet.

And you know, that seemed like something that needed fixing. So I I did my undergrad at MIT -- given that there were no quantum computers around, I got very interested in some of the exciting research that was happening at MIT control using lasers to control you know, matter at its fundamental level, and study wonderful quantum properties about it. So this was, you know, around the time when, when new developments with with Bose Einstein condensates were coming along, or Fermi gasses and I know that these are all buzzwords, but overall it was it was great to see a technology that within a benchtop, and a few people would allow us to peer very deeply into the nature of you know, of reality of quantum physics and see it firsthand. So that's, that's what I was doing in undergrad then I spent a gap year between undergrad and graduate school, getting more deeply involved with with quantum technologies in at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, you know, helping build experimental systems getting my hands dirty, very, very exciting learning a lot from from people there. And that's when I decided to come back to the Boston area, because it has, you know, it has that way of pulling people in. And I came to Harvard to do my PhD, and I decided that I wanted to do something that I could believe that would turn into a meaningful technology within, you know, within my lifetime, for sure, but within just a few years. So, there's more to this story. But at the end of the day, talking with a few other people, we got very excited about the prospect of putting together new ideas that were floating in the air of really isolating individual atoms, and being able to control them with light to build something very powerful and unique.

And we were thinking already about, could we turn this into a quantum computer where the fundamental unit of matter of the atom could be used as the fundamental unit of information processing the qubit. But also, you know, beyond just the concept of quantum computing, as it is, you know, widespread in the industry, we were thinking about how can we use this to, to study other very hard problems in science and quantum quantum research through what we call quantum simulation. And that was, you know, that was the story of my PhD moving back and forth between quantum simulation and quantum computation, building a new device, that that allowed us to very quickly go from an empty lab in 2015, to working with, you know, really interesting simulations that let like quantum simulations, real hardware, simulating other quantum quantum effects, that led to two discoveries already in 2017. So within two years of having started the project, we had control over 51 atoms, we saw some effects that, you know, no one was expecting, and it was really because we had access to the hardware that we could, that we could do this, you know, curiosity driven exploration, we, we were able to see a lot of a lot of very fast progress in increasing the level of control over the system. So, you know, the, the first quantum logic gates, the basis for quantum computation with neutral atoms with an error rate that was you know, in the single digit percent, the largest the largest at that point entangled state, the Schrodinger cat type state. And the progress just kept kept going and by by 2021, while I was transitioning from Harvard finishing my PhD and coming over to QuEra, we showed that the platform that we built was not only powerful, but also scalable. And at that point, we have the first few demonstrations with systems with 256 or more atoms used for quantum simulation for, for exploring, for example, new states of quantum matter that were predicted many, many years before implementing algorithms for optimization. So really a large set of things that that that showed the versatility of What we were working on. And then my journey brought me here to QuEra, where I have been leading an amazing group of people to take that very special platform that we built at the university and take it outside of the lab, put it into people's hands, we've we've now had very fast progress that allowed us to, to build a new system and put it on the cloud, in partnership with Amazon to be available to users. And we're very happy to see that other people now can have a similar experience to the one that I had during my PhD without having to build these systems themselves, and, you know, be at Harvard or MIT or one of these universities, but they can really start playing and having these curiosity driven discoveries anywhere in the world.

Kevin Rowney 10:56
I mean, sounds like a good time having, like, you know, ultra high grade, right physics equipment, right, available on the cloud to you just let it rip on your own experiments. So yeah,

Sebastian Hassinger 11:05
it's a great story. Alex, I before we there's so much in there, I wanted to dive into but the first question that occurs to me is, how did you get introduced the topic of quantum computing in high school? Because that's, I mean, that's

Kevin Rowney 11:20
I love it. I love it that you learned linear algebra while you were learning. Power move, man.

Alex Keesling 11:29
I mean, this was, you know, as with, I think that a lot of of people's careers and motivations, some things just happen almost by happenstance. Yeah. When I was in high school in Mexico, we had a class called vocational studies. And part of that part of that program was to spend some time thinking about what we wanted to do after high school, especially, you know, going to university, and all I knew was that I was very drawn to the sciences, and particularly physics. So thanks to some, some friends from childhood, I was able to connect with a professor at the National University in Mexico, who, who just told me to come by for two weeks, you know, get exposed to what it really was like to be a physicist, I showed up not really knowing much about physics beyond, you know, what you learned in, in high school. And he said, Look, there's this really cool thing coming up -- quantum information theory, we have a few people here working on it. So why don't you just spend some time with them. And there was a researcher that that was very, you know, very graceful with his time, he gave me reading material, he helped me, you know, try to understand some of these concepts. And that was really the start of it. It was not something that was very, you know, intentional on my part, but it had a huge influence in where my life has gotten the

Kevin Rowney 13:12
right mentor at the right time. It can make such a difference. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Sebastian Hassinger 13:17
That's great. I hope that you become not the exception, but the norm is that we have a whole generation of kids who are getting exposed to these concepts earlier and earlier, because, you know, quantum intuition feels like it's increasingly important as we build these kinds of technologies.

Alex Keesling 13:33
I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Kevin Rowney 13:38
No, easy mountain to climb learning that stuff. So yeah, so

Sebastian Hassinger 13:41
So the second question then, either MIT or at Max Planck were you working with trapped ion systems at all?

Alex Keesling 13:51
No, I always work with with neutral atoms. So the MIT did short internship in the lab of Wolfgang Ketterly. He's a professor there. Also Nobel laureate. This was a new lab that was being, you know, being brought into existence, working with neutral lithium. Okay, this was a Bosonictype of lithium. When I went to Germany, I was I joined a project where they were also kind of building towards the first results in that lab using fermionic lithium. So it was it was it was a great way to get exposed to all of the underlying tools that were being used at that point, to to build and control these systems for manipulating neutral atoms.

Sebastian Hassinger 14:50
And so that's my next question. perfect segue. So can you describe for listeners sort of the basic mechanism, basic sort of mechanism behind this control and manipulation of individual atoms.

Alex Keesling 15:05
Yeah, ah,

Sebastian Hassinger 15:06
here we go really cool.

Alex Keesling 15:10
I will try not to speak for two hours it's just like, it's almost so maybe short parenthetical here, but it's wonderful to see that the technology that we've been developing and using, it's really built on top of some very, very significant moments in the, in the history of modern physics, right? That the very first thing that we do, and I want to share a little bit of a mental picture of the kinds of systems that we build, we have a we have a steel chamber, not very big, it's you know, about the size of smaller than a soccer ball. And all that's doing is that it allows us to, to pull all the air out of it and have a very good vacuum. To that we have a little glass tube that extends out of it. So again, this is really just, let's, let's take all the air all of the atoms and molecules out. And then we inject in a controlled way, you know, somewhere in the ballpark of a billion atoms of rubidium. Now, it turns out that atoms by themselves are extremely clean objects in the sense that they have very predictable properties. And one of these is that they can only see light, very, very, very - many more verys = specific colors. And what this allows us to do is that, by having lasers that are pointing from all possible directions, I mean, left right up, down front back, if the laser color is detuned, just slightly, what we call red detuned are slightly less energetic than what the atom can see. This makes it so that the atoms are more likely to, to take in that light in the direction that they're moving. So, effectively, they start getting pushed back. And if these beams intersect at a particular point, the atoms start slowing down in that region.

Turns out that if we if we put in also magnetic field gradient, that collects all of these atoms in a single like, small space, and it makes them effectively stop moving, they start moving about as fast as honey that is being poured. And this This was actually one of one of the this was awarded a Nobel Prize, this is known as optical cooling or in what we call a magneto optical trap. So this is kind of the start of it all, then it turns out that if you take a similar concept of light that is just slightly off resonant with the atom or detuned, and you focus it down very, very tightly, you can make it so that atoms effectively fall into the focus of this very tightly focused laser beam, and they get trapped there. And this again, this was awarded a Nobel Prize recently. This is a tool called optical tweezers. Tweezers. Yeah. Right. So what we do is we start with this Magneto optical trap, this kind of cluster of atoms that are moving very, very slowly, they've lost all their energies, the equivalent temperature that that they have is about 10 Micro Kelvin. So this is extremely, extremely cold lead very, very, very, very close to absolute zero.

Kevin Rowney 19:18
And you're given bliss temperatures without a surrounding dilution fridge any of that. This is

Alex Keesling 19:23
this is all all room temperature. And the thing that's doing the cooling, you know, almost counterintuitive intuitively are the lasers.

Kevin Rowney 19:33
Yeah, yeah, right, right. Yeah. Exactly right. Exactly. Yes. Right.

Alex Keesling 19:42
So then, then we we by focusing the by focusing light, we can hold on to individual atoms. And if we do things in the proper way, we can place these focus spots of light in whatever arbitrary pattern we want. And to do that we use that technology that is very similar to an overhead projector, right like an overhead projector, you have a light bulb, and then it gives you whatever image you want on the on the screen. So we use something very similar where we use a laser to illuminate. And that gives us this pattern of focus spots. But on top of that, we have another way of generating these focus spots, which is a device that allows us to steer a laser beam, and also to split it. So this allows us to then be able to, for example, pick up atoms and move them around, and potentially even drop them somewhere else. So when you start putting together all of these things, what it leads to is the ability to cool atoms down so that they're effectively no longer moving. And to position them anywhere you want. We can then take actual images of these of these atoms, we have videos that are a sequence of pictures that we take of the atoms just floating in this in this vacuum. And we can, for example, use that information to see where did we end up capturing atoms. And based on that, decide where we need to move them. So this is kind of this, this is the beginning of it all this is how we initialize the processors that we're building and the systems that are used also a different university groups nowadays. Using optical tweezers with neutral atoms.

Sebastian Hassinger 21:34
And so that, that that's what you refer to as the lattice, right? The optical lattice is holding all those atoms in place. Is that right?

Alex Keesling 21:42
The optical lattice is a very related technology. But it's not exactly this. It's an alternative to optical tweezers. Okay. Yeah. So we use tweezers. lattices are extremely, extremely versatile and powerful. They're used primarily for quantum simulations of materials where the the structure of the lattice in some ways emulates the structure of a crystal or a material. But with tweezers, we can go beyond that crystal like structure, and really have arbitrary positions.

Kevin Rowney 22:17
I see. And is it the case that in an active quantum computation, are you while the computation is ensuing moving stuff around? Or is it this is just a very powerful form of setup of a different configuration of atoms?

Alex Keesling 22:33
A few years ago, I would have told you that it's only a very powerful setup, because that's what we have demonstrated. Which, which it is because the next thing that we need to do is to make the atoms interact, right? Like how can they how can they share information? How can they get entangled? How can they effectively implement quantum logic if they're being used as a quantum computer, and, you know, I can, I can describe that a little bit more. But the idea here is that we can use a different set of lasers to take the outermost electron in this atom. And by absorbing a little bit of light, this outermost electron can be pulled into a much larger orbit effectively, it's a much higher energy state and this is known as a Rydberg state. The important thing is that now it starts acting kind of like a little quantum antenna. And when you have two atoms that are very close to one another, now these antennas can interfere. And one way to understand it is that let's say I have atom one and two, if atom one is off, then atom two can do whatever it can be on it can be off it could be it could just be changing, but if I turn on atom one, then it interferes with atom two, and it makes it so that atom two cannot now be turned on. So, this implements conditional logic it depending on the state of atom one atom two can or cannot do a particular operation. So this is how the the the interactions between atoms work. This is a physical concept known as the Rydberg blockade. And this you know, this is extremely useful for a variety of reasons. If you want to do simulation of, for example, magnetic materials where the magnetism and the material might make things want to anti align, and that's very much consistent with what I was saying, right like, if my neighbor is in a particular state, I want to be in the other state. You can take optimization problems like graph problems, and map them directly on the spatial distribution of atoms, because something that's important to notice, and describing these things, as little antennas, right, and antennas have a finite range of interaction. So two atoms that are far apart from one another, don't interfere with one another. But it's only when they're close. So you can actually take, you can take a map of a city and say, I want to, you know, I want to understand how, how to place a lot of a lot of things of a particular category, right, like a no call it stores or actual antennas, for example. And then you can take that that distribution, put the atoms effectively in those same positions, and then implement a quantum algorithm by turning on this laser that allows the, the electrons to hop from one state to another, so that the atoms effectively self order to, to solve this problem of trying to put in as many of these things so that they don't interact. So there's a lot of different ways of interpreting this. Now, the reason why I said up to a few years ago, you know, this was this was, you, you you, you set things up, you run your algorithm here. But recently, and this was one of the last projects that I was involved with, at Harvard, and it's kind of taken on a life of its own. Now, the work that is happening in academia, and that we're also exploring here at the company as there are other ways of encoding different states within an atom that don't interact between atoms that are nearby. So what you can do is you can, you can now encode quantum information and what's known as the spin of the electron, basically, as it is pointing down or pointing up, it doesn't really matter, like to go into much more physical details of that. And then you can only briefly make them kind of go into this, this large orbit type of state, and then bring them back to the lower orbit. What this does is that you can implement interesting quantum logic, like logic gates, they're the quantum equivalent of the old powerful NAND of modern computers. And then you can take the atoms and move them around to completely reconnect them. So this is, you know, if you're thinking about a quantum processor, this is now giving you the ability to physically reconnect it as part of the computation, as you were asking, so this tool is still available throughout the computation. And that I think, is a is an extremely powerful concept, because it allows you to now have an all-to-all connected processor. It allows you to mix and match whether you're doing things in a kind of like, slow type of approach where things self organize, and then you move things around. So it's opened up a lot of new possibilities in research, and also as a way to think about an architecture for quantum computing.

Kevin Rowney 28:16
Such a great overview. Thank you. I mean, do I interpret it correctly, then that this capacity to with these optical tweezers and the movement of these neutral atoms and various Rydberg states that that movement, in a certain sense, enables some form of entanglement that then allows you to implement arbitrary gates with respect to the broad vocabulary of quantum computing? Is that said vaguely right.

Alex Keesling 28:41
Yeah. So what it does is that it allows you to connect, so the gates are implemented by kind of pulsing this laser that couples the electron from the lower bid to the high orbit. And in principle, you can do arbitrary gates between a pair of qubits. Of course, when you when you're building a quantum computing architecture, you want to keep a simple instruction set. So you generally are just going to optimize for a few gates, right? Not an arbitrary gates set, but a few basis gates. But what this does is that with the ability to move atoms, what it does is that let's say that I have a string of qubits that are only connected to their neighbors. If I want to connect the two ends, if I want to entangle the first and the last cubed, I need to do a long sequence of gates between the neighboring sets of qubits and until all the way to the Yeah, but with what I'm saying I can, I can entangle the first two and the last two, you know, that's an interesting thing to do. And then I can move the first and the last together and entangled those two, and now I have something that is completely non Local, and the number of operations that I need for that is significantly smaller.

Sebastian Hassinger 30:08
Yeah. Interesting. So I want to dig into to the logical gates in the computation more. But first, I want to before we move there, I want to circle back to, you know, you talked about your time at Harvard as a PhD student building this this initial device, and both observing behaviors that that, that were unexpected or that were novel, and also being able to run simulations of of quantum matter. It sounds very much like the famous ubiquitous quote from Feynamn said, you know, if you wanted to simulate nature, you better do a quantum simulation that sounds like exactly what you were doing at that time. Is that right?

Alex Keesling 30:54
That is? That is exactly right. I mean, Feynman had a lot of foresight, or at least there's a few quotes. Yeah, there's a few quotes of his that have, you know, withstood the test of time. One of them is about quantum simulation. Yeah. I mean, that, you know, nature is quantum. And if you, if you want to simulate it, you better use a quantum device. And that was exactly it, he has a different quote that I really liked. That is a little bit less known than that one. I think this was not in anything that he wrote, I think it's actually from, from lecture notes that he prepared for a public lecture, or a little after talking about this idea of quantum simulation. He also talks about, you know, building quantum computers, not just simulators of physical systems, but actual computers. And he's going through a thought experiment. And he says, you could imagine something like a string of atoms, where each one can be in one of two states. And by, you know, through their evolution, they swap and change between the two states. Nothing -- this would implement a computation using a quantum computer, Nothing could be simpler, nothing could be more elegant. And when I first saw that, you know, it just spoke to my heart, given what I've been doing for the past, you know, 10 plus years.

Sebastian Hassinger 32:25
That's amazing. That's amazing. And so we actually, we talked to John Preskill, not that long ago. And he referenced the quantum spin fluid simulation at Lukins’ lab, which is where you were right. I mean, I think that's, that's work that you were involved in.

Alex Keesling 32:39
Yeah. That was cool. That was actually there's, there's there's more story behind that, that I think, you know, this is not really physics or science. But you know, I think it's still, to me, it was very memorable. And that is that that entire work happened during COVID, when we were locked in, you know, in our houses. And what ended up happening was -- that we were in the middle of going through an upgrade from building these 51 qubit simulations in a linear chain of atoms. To go into that second generation of, we call this project the atom array. So the second generation of the atom array, where we were going to hundreds of atoms and arbitrary 2D geometries, like I described a little bit earlier. And we had just basically gotten to the point where things were starting to work, when, March 2020 hit. And within, you know, we, we didn't know the extent of the impact that this was going to have. But when we started seeing, you know, flights are being canceled, et cetera, et cetera, we realized that we were not going to be able to be in lab very soon. So this was a group of about six of us, we, we basically completely revamped the lab within a timeline of about a week, where we automated almost everything. We connected all of the equipment to computers that were that we could control remotely. And we pretty much stopped sleeping. We took turns, you know, being in the lab and 24/7, taking data, adapting things. And then we went home, and we thought it was going to be you know, a few weeks that we won't be able to get to, so might as well might as well you know, be able to do something over those weeks. We have no idea what we were getting into. But because we were able to set things up like that, we started taking a massive amount of data for different projects. And we you know, we started pushing on new algorithms for for combinatorial optimization using quantum hardware directly for different types of variational ansatz to try to solve them, we took data on understanding how how things basically order themselves, undergoing what we call quantum phase transitions. So kind of like going from liquid to solid, but for quantum for quantum matter, we also looked at a phenomenon that we have discovered in 2017, experimentally without, you know, any theoretical, you know, motivation at that point, which came to be called Quantum many body scars. And this is a phenomenon that, you know, I, I am still not sure that there's an accurate classical counterpart, but the way that I think about it is that it's almost like you have a bucket of, you know, very hot water, and you drop an ice cube, and the ice cube melts, nothing rare about that. But then the ice cube reforms, and the water is still very hot, and then it melts, and then it reforms, and then it melts, and then it reforms. And we were able to study that directly, again, remotely. The other project, which is the one that you're mentioning, this is quantum spin liquids, we, we worked with a few different theory groups, there's this, there's this phase of matter that that was predicted to be, you know, something that is possible, thanks to quantum physics, called a quantum spin liquid. This was predicted 50 years ago. And it was one of the, one of the first if not the first kind of concept of topological quantum matter. And there was, by the way, also, Nobel Prize for similar work on coming up with a theory of this, this topological quantum matter. And people have been trying to build, you know, physical solid state systems that have these properties for basically, since the moment that the idea came about, we place the atoms in a very, in a very interesting configuration, where the, the there's many different, you can still think about a little bit this problem of how do I put as many things so that they're not interacting with one another. And there are many, many, many different configurations, that all coexist. And we were able to look directly into the system and prepare this, this simultaneous superposition of effectively all of these different possibilities. And that is the basis for the quantum spin liquid. So we could actually take, you know, real data that allowed us to look at every single atom and what state it ended up in. But also to look and this is, you know, this is already hard, just kind of classically computing, the the steady state system of a quantum system is difficult. But doing the same thing for the dynamics is exponentially harder. But once you have

Kevin Rowney 38:32
simulation classically over and over again, at a very fine time resolution

Alex Keesling 38:36
time. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. The errors keep compounding, right. Sure. Right. Yeah. So but but once you have, once you have the the the implementation on the quantum hardware, then the dynamics are just the natural thing that does. So we were able to induce dynamics, and then prove them at different points, really start seeing not just, you know, pairwise correlations, but really arbitrary length correlations between different groups of atoms and see the signatures of this quantum spin liquid.

Kevin Rowney 39:13
And it's so interesting, because we do keep hearing this theme across multiple people we talked with on this podcast, about the unique power of these systems to model you know, the evolution right of quantum state, not not just a steady state finding, but rather, what are the dynamics? It feels like there's just there's a whole slew of possible future applications down that path of in material science and similar for that kind of tech.

Alex Keesling 39:39
Yeah, that's something that I personally am really excited and eager to see come to fruition. I think that we talked about quantum computing and generally quantum technologies as tools to do the things that we're already doing. I think that's extremely valuable, right like and it helps us justify much more clearly why we are doing what we are doing, right. But there is such a huge space of things that we haven't even started thinking about, because these are not things that we're trying to do. And some of these, these quantum dynamics fall in that category to me. And I think that once we have, once we start using the hardware, as I said, a lot of the things that I described where we're coming out of just we have the hardware right, implemented, we could do it, we could be surprised and follow the thread. And I think that that is something that we're going to see much more in the next few years is something we're already seeing. Right? Like, and that is, to me extremely exciting.

Sebastian Hassinger 40:46
I mean, it is astonishing to me that that, as you said, in partnership with with Amazon and Amazon Web Services, you've got this device, it's now 256 atoms, that in a sense, it's it's quantum simulation as a service, it's it provides a almost a porthole into the quantum realm, you can just set up your experiment and then watch it happen. It's just a that's kind of mind boggling. As he said, I think I agree with you entirely. I think there's we don't know, what we don't know about what you can do with this kind of hardware. Right?

Kevin Rowney 41:18
It almost feels like we're living in an era right now. Where there's, there's you can hear a lot of black swans flapping around out there. One's gonna land soon, right?

Alex Keesling 41:27
Yeah. And I think that's super exciting. I mean, to me, this feels like trying to predict the impact of the internet and like, you know, the 1990s like, yeah, yeah, sure. I'm sure you can come up with some applications. But would you really be thinking about things like, you know, what we're doing right now.

Sebastian Hassinger 41:52
That happens with every really disruptive technology. And one of my favorite examples was, the personal computer was a skunkworks project at IBM. And it was had, it was a skunkworks, because it was sort of off the books, because they didn't really think there was much of a market for it. And at some point, there was a discussion, what would you use a computer at home for storing recipes? I don't understand. Like,

Alex Keesling 42:15
there was a, there's the infamous quote, right, that the world may need three or four computers. That's

Unknown Speaker 42:22

Sebastian Hassinger 42:24
Yeah, we're really good at predicting this stuff. You could

Kevin Rowney 42:30
This is quantum state evolution thing. I mean, it does feel like at some point, there will be just immense, powerful, transformative applications. We don't see it clearly yet how it's gonna express it that but wow, it does feel like it's evocative of a huge possibility.

Alex Keesling 42:46
Yeah, I mean, we already have a lot of people that have, you know, reached out to us here at QuEra, where they're studying a particular problem, and or particular sets of problems and physics, you know, some of the key words here are, for example, lattice gauge theories, where these things have very deep connections with all sorts of different areas in high energy physics, for example, where we're trying to understand that, you know, fundamentally, what is matter? What is it made of? How do the fundamental particles interact and so on. But also in areas like nuclear science? These are, there's a certain type of math that underlies a lot of these problems. Where, yes, the static behavior is interesting, but it's really in the dynamics than that there is a lot a lot hidden. And, you know, we've seen, for example, researchers that are in different national labs across the country who study these problems, and who have very interesting questions to ask. And they're already accessing some of the most advanced, you know, computational centers across the country in the world to try to answer this to try to model it. And some of them are telling us, Hey, can we do something together? Because we think that we can, we can take some of these simplified models that we study and try to implement them directly on the hardware and see how the natural evolution of the hardware gives us insights into these problems that we're looking into.

Kevin Rowney 44:35
Wow, they already have access to multimillion dollar huge data centers, I mean, just gigantic supercomputer classical clusters. And they're like, that's not enough. We need more. Right?

Alex Keesling 44:44
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I really am excited about seeing how something that I like to tell people is that you know, I really do believe that we have some of the smartest, most capable people here at the company. But we just don't have a monopoly on great ideas. And they think that there's, there's a lot of very clever people out there, who, once they start programming quantum hardware, they will come up with their own algorithms, their own heuristics, they know their use cases. And they're going to make tremendous amount of progress for all of us in this industry.

Sebastian Hassinger 45:26
Well, I suppose that that brings it back around to what you were talking about using the atom array project at the time for optimization problems, right. I mean, there's, there's, you know, you've talked about the scientific applications, but then there's the whole question of how, you know, are there industry problems or, or others sort of general purpose algorithms that you can map onto, onto the neutral atom array, either with the manipulation you described before the simulation sort of mode, but also potentially in combination with these gates as well, right, you'd be able to do some combination of simulation and computation. And that that feels like the potential there is very broad for for real, you know, applications would be, let's say, economic value rather than scientific value.

Alex Keesling 46:21
Right? Yeah. No, I completely agree. I think that the more tools we give to users, the more they will do with them. Right, and the better that things will get. I think that, you know, what the future holds is a little bit unknown. And I must be very honest, I think that there's still a lot of work to do to make quantum computing widely accessible and valuable to large sectors of the population, not just research scientists. But this making hardware available to people working together to try to find solutions. And just looking out for the great creative ideas that may come out of left field is exactly what we need.

Sebastian Hassinger 47:16
It's amazing. And as a closing point, Alex, I’m mindful of your time, we want to be respectful of your schedule. But is there anything that you can share with us in terms of like, what's what's coming next for queer? What's your next device? What's the, you know, what do you see on the horizon for years? Yeah.

Alex Keesling 47:35
Well, I mean, as you were saying, right now, there's, there's this analog way of approaching computation. We, we've seen great adoption with that. But we're interested in complementing that with also a digital approach, again, adding more tools. But to do this, with not just blindly going into Yes, we can, we can implement digital computation. But building and designing an architecture that makes it compatible with what we expect are going to be future developments, not very far in the future, but future developments to implement quantum error correction to get us past this kind of initial stage of quantum computing, and into the next era, you know, the really being able to use logical qubits to scale things up. And and you know, building an architecture that very natively supports that. That is some of the there is some some work that we're doing that we're very excited about. And that is definitely on our roadmap. In the meantime, we have seen a lot of great adoption and interaction with our first device Aquila. And we actually, you know, today's a wonderful day, because today is the day that we expand our availability by almost a factor of five, because we have gotten that request from customers to to give them more availability so that their wait time for them to get their results is shortened.

Sebastian Hassinger 49:14
Excellent. Fantastic. Great. Well, that seems like a great place to stop. So thank you so much, Alex. It's

Kevin Rowney 49:22
really really great time really interesting. Fascinating project. Yeah.

Alex Keesling 49:26
Thank you guys. This was this is a great chat.

Kevin Rowney 50:18
Wow, that was great. Sebastian, always a good time I, what struck me about this, this ongoing theme that keeps coming up came up here again as well, is the capacity of these quantum computing systems in their strength in modeling the highly complex, dynamic quantum behavior of underlying complex systems and their ability to explore explore brand new, exotic states of matter way beyond just, you know, liquid versus solid versus gas. I mean, this whole idea of, you know, a quantum phase transition, it just just blows my mind.

Sebastian Hassinger 50:53
Yeah, it's really cool. Kevin, I, like I said, I really love these neutral atom devices for their scientific potential, of course, as we heard, you know, these are the QuEra device is analog only at the moment, which is really an interesting and unique kind of twist it sort of calls back to some of the early days of the classical computing, industry, when analog devices were being programmed with precisely another, they're working on gate implementations. And that'd be really interesting as well. And you know, I think that, in addition to all the scientific exploration, there's this whole other fascinating exploration of, can you cast sort of more general purpose problems, optimization problems, for example, terms that you can tackle with this device? And you know, that that is a whole other set of challenges. And super interesting. Research is going on cool stuff.

Kevin Rowney 51:48
Well, I can't wait for the next one. Good times.

Sebastian Hassinger 51:51
Yeah, absolutely. I think you know, we've delved pretty deeply into neutral atoms. Now. We've had some conversations about trapped ions, of course, we started the whole podcast with superconducting. So we've done a good job, I think of hitting the foundational

Kevin Rowney 52:06
fair amount of the range so far. Yeah.

Sebastian Hassinger 52:09
I'm looking forward to you know, I think that part of the moment we're in, in quantum computing is the sort of marriage of physics with computer science. Right. And so I think some of the guests we have coming up in the future, will bring discussions of topics of software engineering, software frameworks, software architectures, that all sort of bring some of these concepts home to our listeners who are maybe coming from more of an emerging technology, classical computing kind of background, so I'm really looking forward to that, too.

Kevin Rowney 52:43
Yeah, it just occurred to me, there's this whole it from qubit phenomena, but we're actually talking about information technology from qubit. I mean, this that's exactly.

Sebastian Hassinger 52:55
Who put that on a t shirt. All right. Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin Rowney 53:00
Good times. Okay, that's it for this episode of The New quantum era, a podcast by Sebastian Hassinger. And Kevin Rowney, our cool theme music was composed and played by Omar Costa Homido. production work is done by our wonderful team over at PodFly. If you're at all like us and enjoy this rich, deep and interesting topic, please subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you may stream from. And even consider if you'd like what you've heard today, reviewing us on iTunes, and or mentioning us on your preferred social media platforms. We're just trying to get the word out on this fascinating topic and would really appreciate your help spreading the word and building community. Thank you so much for your time.