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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / June 

Recent graduate wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship, aims to unlock quantum computing

July 13, 2018

A young man stands and smiles next to research equipment.
Romain Debroux

Renewable energy. Transportation. Medicine. Instead of pursuing just one of the many fields that he has a passion for, Romain Debroux ’16, MS ’18 wants to make a fundamental impact on all of them though quantum computing — a technology that has the potential to radically transform computing capability.

In April, the Gates Cambridge Trust recognized Debroux’s dedication and ambition by awarding him a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, the University of Cambridge's most prestigious international postgraduate scholarship.

The scholarship identifies academically outstanding applicants who are likely to be transformative leaders across all disciplines, from finance to linguistics, machine learning to neuroscience — all fields that could benefit from quantum computing, said Debroux.

Classical computing, where data is represented in bits that are either 0 or 1, has done a tremendous amount of good for us, but we’re approaching the limits of its processing power, explained Debroux. “There are certain problems that would take the age of the universe for them to solve.”

Quantum computing, however, lets us calculate information in a fundamentally different way by leveraging the unusual physics present at the quantum level. Superposition, for instance, gives us qubits — bits that are 0, 1, or both at the same time. Entanglement allows us to share information between two widely separated qubits.

“It’s not just about making a faster computer. It’s about opening up a new class of questions,” said Debroux.

Before turning his attention to a technology that could disrupt processing, research, and analysis in every field, Debroux built a strong foundation in the sciences and cultivated the skill of knowing how to think about problems.

At Virginia Tech, Debroux earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in about two years. Then he dove straight into the electrical engineering master’s degree program, taking advanced courses related to quantum technologies across electrical and computer engineering, material science, and physics.

He worked with Wei Zhou, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, and developed a thesis that investigated an unexplained behavior of light at the nano level.

During his two-year stint in Zhou’s nanophotonics and nanoelectronics lab, Debroux established a better understanding of how physics theory connects to engineering application.

“We’ve only recently developed fabrication tools that can apply nanophysics predictions to real technologies,” explained Debroux. “And this is what I care about — developing a technology that will have real world impact. I hope to take the next steps towards this goal at Cambridge.”

As a Cambridge doctoral student, Debroux will explore artificial atoms in diamonds as a platform for physically implementing qubits in quantum computers.

Debroux said he is particularly interested in exploring the new frontier of questions he believes quantum computing will open and in doing so drive new solutions across energy, medicine, and transportation.

Written by Kelly Izlar