Careers & Student Outcomes

The American Quantum Revolution is Here, and it’s Recruiting Physicists Who Think Like Engineers

Stevens’ Department of Physics is filling the talent gap by training a new generation of quantum engineers

You can do more with a physics degree than become the next Sheldon Cooper. You can become a next-generation quantum engineer. Sounds cool, eh? But what exactly does a quantum engineer do, and why do we need them?

You may not be aware that quantum mechanics, which studies the subatomic building blocks of matter and energy, is expected to revolutionize communications, computing, and a wide range of related fields in coming years — just like artificial intelligence is doing right now. Stevens’ Gallaher Professor of Physics Yuping Huang predicts a coming global renaissance powered by technologies that operate on the principles of quantum physics. 

“Just as digital electronic devices have transformed our society, quantum photonics will advance science and technology in prodigious ways,” explained Huang. “We’re right at the dawn of the quantum revolution. We need to motivate and inspire the engineers we’re training, and help them learn to use quantum technologies.”

We’re right at the dawn of the quantum revolution. We need to motivate and inspire the engineers we’re training, and help them learn to use quantum technologies.
Yuping HuangDirector, Center for Quantum Science & Engineering

Funding the future of quantum technology

In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that established the National Quantum Initiative, which called for a 10-year federal effort aimed at boosting quantum science — a move intended to gain quantum supremacy over China and Europe. The bipartisan bill authorized the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to spend a combined $1.275 billion between 2019 to 2023 on quantum research.

Stevens was at the forefront of those efforts with Huang’s Center for Quantum Science and Engineering (CQSE) amassing approximately $30 million in government funding, leading to the development of numerous research breakthroughs and applications over the course of five years. The ultimate goal, Huang said, is to make quantum devices so efficient and inexpensive to operate that they can be integrated into mainstream electronic devices. 

“We want to bring quantum technology out of the lab, so that it can benefit every single one of us,” he explained. “Someday soon we want kids to have quantum laptops in their backpacks, and we’re pushing hard to make that a reality.”

Big name companies like IBM, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Nokia here in New Jersey are also racing to develop their own quantum capabilities as well as numerous startups located in the New York/New Jersey area — including one in Hoboken founded by Huang himself. QPhoton was founded at Stevens and  recently acquired by publicly-traded Quantum Computing, Inc.

The team at Huang’s research center — including numerous students — launched the nation’s first hybrid quantum communications network, and created a quantum random number generator and a patented “quantum lock” with applications toward quantum-based cybersecurity. Other foundational quantum technologies developed at the center could pave the way for unbreakable cryptographic systems and super-fast quantum computers that can perform complex calculations in seconds that would take normal computers years to finish.

That kind of hands-on experience with quantum technologies gives students in Stevens’ Department of Physics a significant edge in the future workplace. Employers are already eager to snap up STEM graduates who understand quantum mechanics. This is going to be a vast job market.
Professor Ting YuChair, Department of Phyics

“That kind of hands-on experience with quantum technologies gives students in Stevens’ Department of Physics a significant edge in the future workplace,” said Professor Ting Yu, department chair and an affiliated faculty member at the center. “Employers are already eager to snap up STEM graduates who understand quantum mechanics. This is going to be a vast job market,” Yu said. “But if we want to train a new generation of quantum engineers, we can’t wait until ten years from now, when there’s already a huge demand. As educators, we have to do the job now.”

Think like an engineer

“Stevens is producing physicists who think like engineers, and engineers capable of thinking like physicists,” said Bharathwaj Muthuswamy, an electrical engineer who left a job as an assistant professor to start a doctorate in quantum engineering at Stevens. Now, Muthuswamy is working to combine cutting-edge programmable circuitry with quantum optical systems, a skill that demands expertise in both electrical engineering and quantum mechanics.

“[The Center for Quantum Science and Engineering] is letting us develop a common language for engineers and physicists,” he said. “That helps us find solutions to problems that neither discipline could solve on its own.”

The Department of Physics currently offers programs in these quantum-related areas of study where students are trained to be scientists who think like engineers:

In addition to faculty labs and research centers like the Center for Quantum Science and Engineering, the department is also equipped with a quantum lab where undergraduates get hands-on experience working with quantum phenomena such as entanglement and teleportation.

Leaping into the Quantum Era

Here on campus, some students are already taking advantage of these new educational avenues. Stevens 2020 Physics graduate Kaitlin Gili designed a fun learning tool called Bas|ket>ball, a game that aims to help high schoolers understand advanced quantum computing concepts while being physically active.

Kaitlin Gili in Japan Kaitlin Gili in front of Gili spent one of her summers studying quantum physics abroad in Tokoyo, Japan.

"I had done very little quantum physics until I arrived in Japan," she recalls. "But once I began working with it, it quickly became my focus, and I have remained in this discipline ever since."

After returning to Stevens, she worked alongside faculty to develop methods that fuse classical models with quantum-influenced methods. She even authored a journal paper comparing and blending those methods.

"We are demonstrating a proof of concept, since quantum computing hardware still remains a challenge," explained Gili. "As quantum software investigators, we are trying to find new ways that these devices are going to be useful once they are further developed. We insert quantum elements into the classical algorithms to create a hybrid of the two, and we do find substantial speed-ups. These are promising findings for the future of quantum computing."

Alexis Edgin, Optical engineering studentAlexis Edgin, Optical engineering studentAnother Physics graduate, Alexis Edgin ’21 who studied optical engineering developed the youView algorithm and phoropter lens design for her senior design project that could improve the experiences and outcomes of an optometry exam.

“We developed a unique algorithm that could predict the patient’s prescription range based on daily activities,” Edgin explained. “If I read in the dark, late at night, or I drive at night, or I spend time outside in the daylight, or I spend time on my computer or looking at the blue light on my phone, how would those daily activities affect my eyesight? Our quiz is designed to predict how much your eyesight would be affected by how many hours you use them for certain activities, and calculate what your prescription would be within a specific range, so that the optometrist could make the exam time shorter and more effective by starting within that range and using our refined phoropter to hopefully find a perfect fit for the patient.”

Meanwhile in Washington, bi-partisan support is growing among lawmakers to reauthorize the National Quantum Initiative act for even more government-sponsored research funding, which means more money for Huang’s team to innovate – and more opportunities for future students at Stevens to join the quantum revolution. 

The Department of Physics conducts groundbreaking research in quantum science and engineering.

Learn more about academic programs and research in the Department of Physics: