They are researching future technologies such as quantum computers, developing innovative technology or algorithms, advancing supercomputing, artificial intelligence or machine learning: In loose succession, we will introduce young scientists here, from whom we are sure to hear more. We start with computer scientist Daniëlle Schuman, currently a master's student at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.


Foto: Quantumannealer with 5000 Qbits. D Wave Systems

Improving the world with quantum

She already stands out: "Your work is on the cutting edge, and you are an example for the top-class minds in the Bavarian quantum ecosystem," Laura Schulz, co-initiator of the Bavarian Quantum Computing eXchange-Network (BQCX) of the Leibniz Supercomputing Cent (LRZ), said. In September 2020, Daniëlle Schuman presented the results of her Bachelor's thesis to the community of researchers and entrepreneurs during a digital meeting. In it, the 23-year-old computer scientist dealt with neural networks and showed that these applications for machine learning run not only on conventional computers, but also on quantum annealers: "Great presentation of a highly topical subject," said Dr. Fabio Buffo, high-performance computing specialist at Amazon Web Service (AWS), praising her talk.

Modeling more solutions to global issues

"To do this, I rewrote a neural network library, added to it and tested it on a quantum simulator, which worked great," Schuman says. "Hopefully, my work will gain relevance for real-world application." That's to be expected: Machine learning supports the processing of data. Annealers, in turn, are quantum computers, and the hopes of business and science rest on them to be able to evaluate huge amounts of data even faster. "Annealers are special quantum computers," the master's student specifies. "They can't be programmed as precisely, but they can model certain probability distributions and solve combinatorial optimization problems faster." Logistics, traffic planning, financial management or materials management thus improve transport routes, costs, cash flows or the composition of materials. Characteristics of the tasks: Few alternatives open too many possibilities. To visit 5 cities, there are 120 alternatives. 10 cities open already 3.628.000 possibilities. For 58 cities, there are more than a tredecillion, a number with 78 digits and so unimaginably large that its value is said to exceed the number of atoms in the universe. "Right now, with supercomputers, we can only model one possible state at a time from measured values; with quantum computing, we could calculate multiple variants simultaneously," says Schuman, who expects the future technology to provide more and faster solutions to global issues. "Annealers can help model scenarios for climate protection. I'd like to move humanity and nature forward with my work."

Experimenting with new formulas and input formats

Her enthusiasm for the natural sciences and her social commitment have been awakened at home: "My father is a computer scientist and often explained physical effects such as the lever function or gravity to us at the lunch table," Schumann says. "My mother is a medical-technical radiology assistant, currently a housewife and very active as a volunteer." She discovered chemistry and nanotechology for herself at a school academy, initially enrolling in chemistry after graduating from high school in 2015, but quickly switching to computer science and philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU): "I like the typical “if-then logic” of computer science and the question of how I have to work through tasks in order to use them to arrive at solutions." At the LMU Chair of Computer Science, in the Department of Mobile and Distributed Systems, Schuman gets involved as a tutor, learns about quantum computing in a crash course, joins a research group, finds her bachelor's topic in the process and also a very broad field for basic research. She specializes in annealers and in research on their programming using Quadratic Unconstrained Binary Optimization (QUBO), a code for computing possibilities using matrices. She already accesses quantum simulators and annealers via the cloud and with her laptop. "You don't really notice a difference," reports the junior researcher, who is collaborating on several research projects. "But quantum computing requires a new input format, the QUBO, and the functions or equations have to be mathematically reformulated."

Get involved and try it out

Daniëlle Schumann gestures animatedly, thinks about some questions for a while. She would like to continue working in the future field of quantum after completing her master's and doctorate, and certainly stay sometime abroad. Having grown up speaking Dutch, foreign languages come very easily to her. But the young researcher is much more fascinated by the innovative technology: "Quantum effects are a bit magical," explains Schuman carefully. "You don't really understand them yet, but you're already working with them." She likes to live with the indeterminacy in her field. Engagement offers many opportunities to learn, practice, try things out: Daniëlle Schuman deepened her computer knowledge first as a tutor, then as an working student of the IT security management at the LRZ, where she helped to optimize the ticketing system, and now as an junior scientist at the chair. On the side, the student is always participating in hackathons or programming labs. For example, she and her friends developed ideas for a blood-donation app to deal with the Corona crisis at #WirvsVirus, or tinkered with quantum solutions to economic problems at the Push Quantum student club: "I like to approach tasks systematically, read up on things, plan my approach before I start practical experiments."

Environmental protection and medicine are particularly in focus: Daniëlle Schuman's sister suffers from the rare hereditary disease Friedreich's Ataxia, which leads to neurological and orthopedic problems. In the association of the same name, the computer scientist fights for the development of drugs and therapies as well as easier access to them, even reading up on pharmaceutical studies and collecting supporters for the cause online. "Just do it," is her motto. "If you don't do it, nobody will." (vs)


Foto: Daniëlle Schuman, LMU