Quantum People

We talk to Mark Webber about his work on Quantum Algorithms at Sussex University

October 26, 2020

Sussex University is well known for its Quantum technologies. Sussex , located close to Brighton Beach is also now the home of a new Quantum spin-out out that we have introduced before named Universal Quantum which is harnessing Trapped Ion technologies to build a Quantum Computer. We spoke to Mark Webber who works with the founders of Universal Quantum on Quantum Algorithms and how they can be applied in the real world.

QZ: How did your interest in Quantum Computing start?

I think I was drawn to Physics because I was hoping to focus on the more underlying or fundamental questions. When I first heard about Quantum Computing it was in the context of information theories of reality, like, is the universe one big computer, a quantum computer, or something else entirely? These sorts of questions really got me excited in the beginning, but now I’m getting a lot of enjoyment working on problems that feel more tangible, and that may bring us closer to having a useful quantum computer.

QZ: Please tell us about your work and what you are aiming to achieve with your research?

At the moment I am finishing up my PhD in the Ion Quantum Technology group at the University of Sussex. We are mostly an experimental group focused on developing scalable solutions for quantum computing. My role has been a theoretical one and my main focus has been solving problems which are necessary to run a quantum computer following our design – such as how to best enable connectivity between qubits. I have spent a lot of timing interacting with industry to identify the most relevant applications, and I hope to help bridge the gap that exists between hardware, algorithms, and applications.

Mark’s work on enabling connectivity between 32 qubits which appeared on his published work.

QZ: Give everyone a single human readable sentence to describe your work.

I recently created a routing algorithm which allows qubits to connect efficiently in our quantum computer, which is a similar problem to managing traffic flow through a city.

QZ: You are currently pursuing your PhD, what do you want to do afterwards? Academia? Start-up or join a company?

I plan to stick around in the field of quantum computing, and I’m drawn to companies / start-ups a bit more than academia at the moment. My research group has recently started a company called Universal Quantum and their work sounds very interesting.

QZ: What is your favourite Quantum Toolset? (i.e. programming language, toolset, framework)

The one I have the most experience with is Q#, which was really helpful for doing resource estimation for fault tolerant algorithms (my focus was quantum chemistry). There are inbuilt functions for things such as phase estimation, and Hamiltonian simulation. I plan to delve deeper into some alternatives soon to get a feel for them; CQC’s t|ket> is on my radar at the moment.

QZ: What aspect of Quantum has surprised you the most?

How quickly things seem to be developing. I joined the field in 2017 and even in that short time there has been so much progress, both experimentally and for the algorithms.

Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group  where Mark Works on Quantum Algorithms to improve the capabilities of Ion Trap Quantum Computers.
Sussex Ion Quantum Technology Group where Mark Works on Quantum Algorithms to improve the capabilities of Ion Trap Quantum Computers.

QZ: Where do you see your research work having its biggest impact?

I think I can have the biggest impact by helping bring together the somewhat separate fields of hardware, applications, and algorithms. People necessarily have to specialise and tunnel vision into a topic to make progress, but now more than ever it seems like we can also get a lot of value by integrating these ideas together. For example, researching alternative error correction methods for hardware that has flexible connectivity may prove very fruitful.

QZ: What is the most challenging part about working in the Quantum Computing domain?

This probably isn’t specific to Quantum Computing, but any field which is progressing this rapidly, it’s difficult to keep on top of all the new developments, especially when you want a broad perspective on the field as a whole.

QZ: When do you see Quantum Computing as getting mass traction and mainstream appeal?

That’s a tough one! I think useful applications are on the horizon and might be achieved in the NISQ style devices. An error corrected device is definitely some years away, but it may deliver applications grand enough to really draw main stream attention. I think most big companies are already considering how their processes might be affected by quantum computing, and I understand that even small improvements with a first mover advantage can be game-changing.

QZ: How can people learn and get into Quantum Computing?

There are lots of online courses that are available and the few that I have tried were great. People should also try out some of the tutorials on IBM’s QISKIT to delve right into programming a quantum computer. The simulator at https://algassert.com/quirk has example circuits and helpful visualisations. If you’re serious I’d recommend the book Quantum Computation and Quantum Information, by Nielsen and Chuang, it was very helpful to me when I first started.

QZ: What career advice can you give about getting into the QC space.

Before my PhD I did an undergrad-Masters in Physics and then got some experience working as a technical consultant. How you enter will depend on which part of the stack you want to work on, whether that is applications, algorithms, software engineering, or hardware engineering. As the field progresses I think there will be more and more ways to get involved without a PhD. My general advice would be to just keep learning, there are so many resources online now that you can develop a very good understanding through self study.


Many thanks to Mark Webber. To learn more about Mark’s research at the University of Sussex and his work on Quantum Algorithms you can visit the group here. To find out more about the Quantum Start-up building Ion trap Quantum Computers originating from Sussex you can visit the page of Universal Quantum.