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Timothy Qian

Timothy Qian

Age: 18
Hometown: Rockville, MD

Science: “Optimal Measurement of Field Properties with Quantum Sensor Networks”

About Timothy

I recently graduated from Montgomery Blair High School, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, and this fall I will be a freshman at MIT and plan to major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, where I hope to continue studying quantum computation and information.

Throughout my high school career, I participated in a lot of competitive programming competitions, culminating in my qualification for the USACO training camp two years in a row. I gained many new friends through competitive programming, and this shared interest led to us founding the Montgomery Blair Informatics Tournament (mBIT). mBIT provided an opportunity for both new programmers and experienced programmers to test their skills and meet with people with similar interests.

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"Being named a Davidson Fellow is a huge honor, and I’m so proud to have this amazing recognition of my research."

Project Description

I researched quantum metrology, a subject in physics that studies how quantum mechanics can be used to improve the measurement accuracy of physical quantities such as electric or magnetic fields. These fields, which are usually dependent on a set of unknown parameters, can be measured using quantum qubit sensors. My objective was to extract some property, typically a function of these parameters, using measurements of these fields with minimal error. Prior studies assumed the fields measured are uncorrelated. This is not true in many practical scenarios, so I removed this “ideal” assumption in my research. Making use of the redundant information in the fields, I both derived a further reduced lower bound for the error as well as developed a protocol that achieved this theoretical bound.

Deeper Dive

I have always enjoyed computer science, which naturally led to my interest in quantum computing. However, I was disappointed to learn that quantum computers could not realize their full potential yet due to their many instabilities. Thus, I decided to research in a field that could help potentially mitigate some of the errors in quantum computing: quantum metrology. The field of quantum metrology studies how quantum properties can be used to improve the measurement accuracy of certain physical quantities such as electric or magnetic fields. My research specifically focused on how to optimally measure combinations of fields that are potentially correlated, an important practical situation that hadn’t been studied yet in prior research. After developing a model to account for the potential correlations, I derived an absolute limit on the measurement accuracy that could be achieved. I then designed an optimal protocol that achieved this limit. This optimal protocol provides a better method for measuring the error associated with the laser beams that are used to manipulate the states of quantum computers. With accurate information on the error, we can actively work to correct these errors to achieve more practical quantum computing.

I worked as an intern at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS). My mentors at JQI/QuICS supported me throughout the entire research process. Due to the pandemic, all my meetings were virtual. However, the meetings were still extremely helpful, giving me an opportunity to discuss my ideas with my mentors. Throughout the internship, I learned not only how to perform research effectively but also how to communicate my research to others.

Academically, my research introduces a new analysis technique into quantum metrology: using linear programming duality to prove the optimality of a measurement protocol. This technique may lead to further insights into the optimality of both existing and new measurement protocols. My research results also have many practical applications. In addition to improving hardware control in quantum systems, my protocol can help provide accurate magnetic field measurements for the chemical composition analysis of molecular structures as well as aid in medical imaging to obtain information about cells.


What is your favorite Olympic sport?


What is one of your favorite quotes?

“Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

What are the top three foreign countries you’d like to visit?

Japan, Greece, Italy

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In The News

Washington – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2021 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Timothy Qian, 18, of Rockville, Md.; Eleanor Sigrest, 18, of Woodbridge, Va.; and Kaien Yang, 18, of Annandale, Va. Only 20 students across the country to be recognized as scholarship winners each year.

Download the full press release here