This Sussex Life. Quantum physicist Dr Zak Romaszko: "I tried to fix my dad's PC after I broke it"
Quantum physicist Dr Zak Romaszko completed his PhD at Sussex and now works at the University’s spin-out company, Universal Quantum, which plans to build the world’s first large-scale quantum computer.
I’ve always liked computers. I got interested when my dad was away for work. I broke his computer and spent the next few months trying to fix it, so when he came back he wouldn’t notice anything went wrong. After that, my interest in computers stuck with me. I always really loved physics too, so quantum computing is a perfect merging of ideas for me.
I’m driven by scientific curiosity, of course, but also by thinking about the problems that quantum computers could solve. One example is protein folding. At the moment, there are huge banks of computers all over the world using a tremendous amount of power-simulating biological proteins. The computers analyse how the proteins react over time to help us understand conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancers. However, the only way to really explain how chemical reactions work inside the body is by using quantum methods. Everything else is just an estimation. So quantum computers will allow us to understand much faster how our body reacts to new medications. That’s one of the things that I’m always really psyched about.
I was at Sussex for four years. When I started, I’d only been to Brighton once before, which was for my interview with Professor Winfried Hensinger. I came down in a suit, all prepared for my interview and Winni was there in his shorts and t-shirt. I thought ‘ok, I like this guy’. He’s a serious academic but very laid back. I really enjoyed my time at the University. I’ve made a lot of friends here. If I look at my circle of friends, I realise I’m pretty much the only person from England. You get all these cultural inputs, and learn how the rest of the world is. I find that fascinating.
During my PhD I started to appreciate all the cool physics that happens inside an ion trap. An ion trap is our building block for making a quantum computer. It’s a bit of silicon with patterned gold on top. When you apply voltage to it, it traps an ion (which is a charged atom). Researchers were asking themselves, ‘can we do more with it?’. For my PhD, I spent a lot of time thinking about integrating more features into them and what they might do in the future as a result. Aside from a quantum computer itself, ion traps can be used for a whole host of different things; quantum sensors to detect explosives, and narcotics or quantum clocks, which are accurate to tiny timescales.
Now I work at Universal Quantum, the spin-out company from the University of Sussex. We’re working alongside the University team. The research group wants to push boundaries, asking ‘where can the science go next?’, whereas we at Universal Quantum are working to make the existing technology really useful. What we’re building is something called a universal quantum computer. You’ll hear about smaller quantum computers with perhaps 50–100 quantum bits. That’s what Google has, and you can do cool things with that. But where things get really interesting is when you start hitting a million quantum bits – and that’s when you’re able to make a universal quantum computer. We’re going to build it by using silicon modules, each one operating as its own quantum computer. Then we’ll ‘copy and paste’ the modules and add more and more. That’s why our quantum computer will be so scalable, and why we think we’ll make the world’s first large-scale one.
This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.
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