MIT Professor Participates in $3M Breakthrough Prize for Quantum Computing Discoveries

An MIT professor working on quantum computing is sharing a $3 million Breakthrough Prize.

MIT mathematics professor Peter Shor shared the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with three other researchers, David Deutsch from the University of Oxford, Charles Bennett from IBM Research and Gilles Brassard from the University of Montreal. They are all “pioneers in the field of quantum information,” according to a statement from the prize foundation.

The 2023 Breakthrough Prizes aim to recognize fundamental discoveries in life sciences, physics and mathematics that are changing the world.

“The 2023 awardees produced absolutely outstanding science,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and chief executive officer of 23andMe, which is one of the founding sponsors of the award, in the statement. “The creativity, ingenuity and sheer perseverance that went into this work is impressive.”

According to the foundation, Shor “invented the first quantum computing algorithm, which was clearly useful. Shor’s algorithm can find the factors of large numbers exponentially faster than anticipated for any classical algorithm.”

“He also designed techniques for error correction in quantum computers – a much more difficult task than in classical computers, where simple redundancy is sufficient. These ideas not only paved the way for today’s rapidly evolving quantum computers; They are now also at the limits of basic physics,” the foundation said.

“I’m very grateful that this year’s award goes to quantum information theory and quantum computing theory,” Shor, who has received numerous awards for his work, said on MIT News, the university’s news website. “My three co-winners were the most influential people in starting this space. I consider them friends and they all clearly deserve it.”

“Peter set the stage for quantum computing to become the vast field it is now,” Alan Guth, an MIT physics professor and former Breakthrough Prize recipient, told MIT News. “His algorithms surprised the world and ignited the field of quantum computing.”

Quantum computers use the laws of quantum mechanics to improve their calculations. Instead of using bits like classic computers, they use qubits, typically subatomic particles like electrons or photons. Quantum computers are expected to solve problems beyond the most powerful supercomputers.

Quantum computers, which have recently received strong interest from the technology industry and investors, are “in a very early stage of development, but even now, the quantum computers that we already have are powerful from a scientific point of view,” Caltech professor John said Preskill in an interview on the university’s website in March. However, it will be “decades or more than 10 years” before the devices have widespread practical implications, he predicted.

Other founding sponsors of the Breakthrough Prize include Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook; his wife, philanthropist Priscilla Chan; and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.

The foundation awarded five major prizes totaling US$3 million and minor awards to young scientists, bringing this year’s total to US$15.75 million.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.

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