Kristen Pudenz joined Atom Computing in 2022 as Director of Advanced Research Programs. Before that, she worked at Lockheed Martin for seven years, first as a quantum applications engineer, then as Corporate Lead for Quantum.
Kristen earned her doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2014. Her dissertation focused on Error Correction and Applications for Quantum Annealing.
We sat down with Kristen to talk to her about her role, why she joined Atom Computing, how she got into quantum computing, and the near- and long-term applications for this disruptive technology.
First off, tell us about your role at Atom Computing. What does your job as Director of Advanced Research Programs entail?
I focus primarily on external collaborative research, working together with universities, government, and other companies to advance shared scientific goals. These research projects are complementary to the main processor development track and advance the technical objectives of the company. This includes anything from novel ways to use atomic array quantum computing to custom-designed hardware components that enable us to realize advanced physics and enhance our processor performance.
Why did you decide to join Atom Computing? What excites you most about the company?
I joined Atom Computing because I think the technology is sound, the scaling path is the most promising I’ve seen, and the team is excellent. The combination of long coherence times with highly controllable two-qubit gates and the flexibility of dragging and dropping identical atoms into a qubit array to form a processor make the engineering picture very attractive.
What differentiates Atom Computing’s quantum hardware technology? What are the benefits of Atom’s atomic array quantum technology based on neutral atoms?
Atom Computing uses the atom’s nuclear spin as our qubit. These energy levels are well isolated from the environment, particularly electromagnetic noise, and offer extremely long coherence times whose limits we haven’t even begun to touch. Coherence sets the stage for everything else that happens with the quantum computer. It allows room for gates to operate and enables future error correction by creating a processor that can hold quantum information in clean areas while it repairs itself in areas affected by noise. Combined with the natural scalability of atomic array qubit trapping, this shows a platform with plenty of room to grow.
How did you get into quantum computing? What do you enjoy most about the field?
I’m always attracted to first principles and mapping out technical landscapes, and I became interested in quantum computing because I saw the limits coming for classical computers with the end of Moore’s law. As a graduate student, I was able to use the very first commercial quantum processor ever sold, which I regarded from an engineer’s perspective. It was small, and too noisy to implement most of the beautiful quantum error correction schemes theorists were producing. So I stripped down an error correcting code to its simplest components and modified it to fit the tool I had available – and it worked! What I enjoy most is bringing solutions from the lab to the real world and using them to solve a problem we couldn’t before.
There is a lot of discussion about “killer applications” for quantum computing? What do you think are the most promising near- and long-term applications for quantum computing?
We have some very interesting NISQ (Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum) algorithms available right now for optimization, machine learning, and chemistry. As we move to larger quantum processors with partial error correction, results from these algorithms should improve to a point where we’ll be able to use a quantum computer to extend the reach of a classical computer by solving key problems. In the long term, the best proven speedups for quantum computers are in factoring (which is why we need new encryption algorithms) and search. These are just the mathematically proven speedups, though. Just as most classical computing algorithms we use today aren’t provably optimal, there are likely many use cases for large quantum computers that will offer speedups we can’t mathematically predict at this stage. It’s going to be an exciting journey!
Quantum computers are an early-stage technology. Should companies or organizations be exploring quantum computing now? If so, why? How do you recommend they get started?
Yes, it’s a good idea for companies to explore quantum computing now – my previous job was helping a large company do exactly that. The two main reasons to do so are to gain expertise and to contribute to the co-design feedback loop. Quantum computing is a transformational technology that will change what we regard as easy to do with computers. It’s important for companies to understand what this means for their industry so they can take full advantage of the new technology instead of being scooped by other firms who kept up. By engaging early, companies can also interact directly with quantum computer manufacturers like Atom Computing and influence the design choices that are shaping the large-scale processors under development, making them better suited to the use case that matters most to your company.
Finally, what advice do you have for people who want to work in quantum computing?
Get programming or get into a physics lab! We need brilliant, dedicated people working at all layers of the quantum stack, whether that’s device physicists giving us the tools to control individual atoms, controls engineers bringing the system to life, error correction and compiler developers making the processor more performant, or applications programmers connecting quantum computers to their problem of choice. There are so many opportunities to get engaged, such as workshops, certificates, degrees, and professional experience. It’s cutting edge and fascinating, and we’d love you to join us!