Between two universes | MIT News


When Mohammad Javad Khojasteh arrived at MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) in 2020 to begin his postdoctoral appointment, he was introduced to an entirely new world. The area he knew best could be explained by “classical” physics, which predicts the behavior of ordinary objects with near perfect accuracy (think Newton’s Three Laws of Motion). But this new universe was governed by bizarre laws that can produce unpredictable results while operating on scales typically smaller than an atom.

“The rules of quantum mechanics are counter-intuitive and seem very strange when you start learning them,” says Khojasteh. “But the more you know, the clearer it becomes that the underlying logic is extremely elegant.”

As a member of Professor Moe Win’s lab, called the Wireless Information and Network Sciences Laboratory, or WINS Lab, Khojasteh’s work straddles the classical and quantum realms to improve communication, sensing and computational capabilities. .

Growing up in Iran, Khojasteh knew he wanted to be a scientist from an early age. In high school, he was especially passionate about physics. He was a first-generation college graduate, earning a dual bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and mathematics from Sharif University of Technology, before completing his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There he worked at the intersection of robotics and machine learning, developing cyber threat protection tools as well as learning-based scheduling algorithms for autonomous robots to operate safely in scenarios. changes in the real world. After graduating from UCSD in 2019, he recalls calling home to share the good news: “Mom, I’m officially a doctor now.”

After a stint at Caltech, where Khojasteh collaborated with NASA researchers to develop planning and control algorithms to improve off-road autonomous driving and build robots for life-sense missions on other planets, Khojasteh crossed the country to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to join LIDS. and the WINS laboratory.

“LIDS has always been central to the field of decision-making and information science,” he says. “As an undergraduate student and then as a PhD student, I remember reading articles and professors’ manuals from LIDS, so having the chance to collaborate with these renowned researchers during my postdoctoral work was really exciting LIDS is such an interesting and dynamic environment.

Until then, Khojasteh had mainly focused on classical systems such as autonomous vehicles, although he always maintained a keen interest in quantum systems. In the WINS Lab, he could finally focus on both activities in tandem.

There is a quantum revolution on the horizon, he explains, that will transform the way devices perform sensing, computing and communication tasks. Problems that take classical computers years to solve will be child’s play for large-scale quantum computers expected to come online in the next few decades. For example, these next-generation quantum computers will allow biologists and chemists to better simulate molecular interactions to design new drugs and even help engineers design better batteries. These machines will also leverage the laws of quantum physics to advance medical research and clinical care.

In Khojasteh’s words: “This quantum revolution will change lives and help us better understand the world around us.”

Because he was still so new to the field of quantum mechanics when he arrived at the WINS lab, Khojasteh started by reading and discussing related papers with his lab mates to catch up. In the meantime, he started working on a project related to classic systems, helping robots navigate while keeping their locations secret to thwart potential security breaches.

As Khojasteh began to master the rules of the quantum universe, he took on a second project that has since become his main activity, aimed at developing data-driven techniques to control the basic units of information that power computers. quantum.

Whereas conventional computers store information as electrical pulses that represent ones and zeros called “bits”, quantum computers use quantum bits, or “qubits”, which can usually be subatomic particles. Based on their unique quantum mechanical properties, qubits can represent additional values ​​besides 0 or 1: they can also represent both 0 and 1 at the same time in different weights (a phenomenon known as superposition which can lead to IT benefits). However, since the dynamics of quantum systems are so difficult to predict, controlling the state of these qubits is no small feat. While traditional approaches rely on manually designed models, Khojasteh’s method uses a hierarchical design that overlays exploratory control, quantum tomography, Hamiltonian learning, and data-driven control techniques to more precisely tune the dynamics of these qubits, allowing quantum computers to operate more efficiently.

“I learned so much from Professor Win,” says Khojasteh. “There are very few research groups with a foothold in both classical and quantum physics, so working in his lab has been an amazing opportunity.”

With about a year left in her postdoctoral appointment, Khojasteh has begun to consider the next steps in her career. He plans to apply for research scientist positions in industry, as well as professorships. Becoming a teacher would allow him to continue teaching, which he greatly appreciated during his time at LIDS. In addition to being a teaching assistant, he also volunteered for the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), which allows students from historically underrepresented groups in science to become researchers. Khojasteh mentored an MSRP student for over a year, and the two even co-authored a study together.

Whether pursuing a career in academia or industry, Khojasteh aims to pursue fundamental research in quantum systems. His interdisciplinary background in physics, mathematics, engineering, robotics, machine learning, and quantum mechanics has given him a multifaceted perspective, which he applies to every research problem he encounters.

“I’m someone who likes to cross imaginary boundaries between fields and try different methods to answer a research question,” he says. “Everyone at LIDS also appreciates this interdisciplinary approach, which gives them a broad view to conduct really interesting research and solve important problems.”

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