IonQ Sponsors Bitcamp’s First Quantum Hackathon

Bitcamp is an annual hackathon where students work to complete challenges under a 36 hour deadline. Sponsored by the University of Maryland at its College Park campus, Bitcamp introduced a new quantum track for the April 2022 event. Qubit by Qubit created the quantum teaching tools while IonQ provided access to our quantum computers and indirect funding.

Unlike most hackathons, Bitcamp values experience and mentorship over competition. Participants come to learn how to use new technologies, like IonQ’s quantum hardware and software stack. We helped to support a set of four incrementally more complex quantum challenges, all written in Qiskit, a popular open source tool for programming quantum computers.

The first challenge was an introduction to quantum computing, to get students comfortable with concepts like qubits, states, gates, and measurement. The challenges laddered all the way up to using the variational quantum eigensolver for chemistry, using it to calculate the bond energies based on distance from a nucleus. Unlike the rest of the hackathon, students in the quantum track worked as individuals rather than as teams.

Participants at the summer camp-themed hackathon ranged from undergraduates to a PhD candidate. Most are physics, computer science, or engineering majors. Few had any prior experience with quantum computing or programming with Qiskit, but out of the 24 total quantum track students 12 were able to complete all four challenges, winning prizes ranging from mini speakers and earbuds to a tour of IonQ’s headquarters in College Park, Maryland.

Skylar Chan, a sophomore at UMD studying computer science, was able to quickly start using Qiskit for the first time and completed each of the four challenges. He says that he enjoyed learning about the current state of quantum computing and its potential applications.

“I believe quantum computing will be a useful asset for medical research when it becomes ready,” Chan said. “Quantum machine learning could help analyze big healthcare data, accelerate biomedical discovery, and improve precision medicine.”

“Hackathons like Bitcamp provide hands-on learning and dedicated time for problem solving,” said David Steurman, IonQ’s Director of Academic and National Lab Partnerships. “This is how many students first find their interests in engineering and technology. This time over a hundred participants got to use a quantum computer. It is hard to imagine the excitement I would feel as an 18 year old programming such a device. I can't wait to see how these experiential activities inspire these young trail blazers as they develop the technology of tomorrow.”

The fun side of the event was obvious through the s’mores, games and miniature tents. But Bitcamp and its quantum track are also doing something very important for the future of computing. Giving a student her first opportunity to learn how to program a quantum computer could eventually send her career in a new direction. As quantum computers are becoming more powerful and useful, a pool of talent able to work with them will be critical not only to quantum hardware and software companies, but also across finance, pharmaceuticals, materials research, and other industries which have all started to explore quantum applications.