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ECE Assistant Professor Awarded Canada Research Chair in Quantum Software and Algorithms
Congratulations to ECE Assistant Professor Olivia Di Matteo on being awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Quantum Software and Algorithms! Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the institution receives $100,000 annually for five years, with an additional $20,000 annual research stipend for first-term Tier 2 Chairs.
The CRC Program furthers the advancement of Canada’s research and development strategy. Chairholders improve our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthen Canada’s international competitiveness, and help train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the coordination of other researchers’ work. To learn more about the CRC program, visit: https://research.ubc.ca/federal-research-chair-programs/canada-research-chairs.
Read on to hear about our interview with Dr. Olivia Di Matteo, her work at ECE, and future research plans!
How do you feel about being named a Canada Research Chair?
I am both thrilled and stunned!
Can you explain the process of selection for this nomination?
The nomination came as part of my faculty position, which I started in January 2022, but the actual application process began about 2 years ago. I had to write a grant proposal, which went through rounds of internal and external review. It was a bit intimidating since it was the first grant proposal I’d ever written, but the team at SPARC was extremely helpful, and colleagues in my department provided a lot of support as well.
What were some of your recent works that contributed to you being named as a CRC chair?
I’ve worked on many different topics, so it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing! But in particular, I’ve developed and implemented new methods for characterizing quantum systems, synthesizing quantum circuits, and applications of quantum computing in physics. I’ve also made many contributions to an open source quantum software framework, PennyLane, that other researchers use for their own work.
What does your current research look like?
My group works on quantum software and algorithms, so the day-to-day is a lot of programming. On the software side, one area of focus is developing tools for automating and improving quantum compilation, which is the pipeline that translates high-level algorithms into the language of quantum hardware. On the algorithms side, we are exploring the potential use of qutrits (instead of qubits) in quantum algorithms and working on some techniques for noise mitigation.
What is something people wouldn’t expect about your research topic?
That there are problems that are hard even for quantum computers. There’s a serious amount of hype around my field right now, and quantum computers are often presented as super-advanced machines that will solve every problem exponentially faster. There are definitely some specific (but important!) problems for which we expect this will be the case (once we overcome the major engineering hurdles of building them, of course). But there are classes of problems we believe will remain hard.
What are your future research plans?
Lately, I’ve been diving into some applications of quantum computing to nuclear theory and particle physics, which has been really fun, since my training is actually as a physicist. The mapping of those problems to quantum algorithms in software through the compilation and optimization process is really interesting, and I’m hopeful that with some advances on the software front, we’ll soon be able to leverage the hardware to solve more realistic problems. I’m also thinking about how we can make quantum computing software more accessible (e.g., through better abstraction and helpful debugging tools) so that more people can use the technology in their own work.