StuyQuantum Hosts Stuyvesant Alumnus Kenneth Wang (‘07)

StuyQuantum club organized a virtual guest speaker event on February 15th featuring Stuyvesant alumnus Kenneth Wang (‘07).

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On February 15, StuyQuantum organized a virtual event featuring Stuyvesant alumnus Kenneth Wang (‘07). The event aimed at enriching the understanding of quantum computing among its attendees, an area not extensively covered in Stuyvesant’s curriculum. Through this event, the club wished to emphasize its commitment to fostering a welcoming environment for all members while providing access to valuable resources, such as online learning facilities and networking opportunities.

The StuyQuantum club arose from a recognized absence of quantum computing education at Stuyvesant High School. “There wasn’t really an opportunity to learn about quantum computing at Stuy so we decided to create a community to learn about it together,” Co-President Shwetlana Jha said. “We wanted to make a club that was laid-back and welcoming for everyone. We also wanted to bring various resources to the club so that our members could grow and network.”

In order to create a learning atmosphere for quantum computing, StuyQuantum provides weekly lectures covering quantum computing topics, guest speaker sessions, participation in MIT’s iQuHACK hackathon,.  and alliances with entities such as IBM and qBraid, an online platform for learning about quantum programming. Notably, the club recently co-hosted a Fall Fest hackathon with IBM, distinguishing itself as the sole high school club to organize such an event. “It was really nice seeing that Stuyvesant has a quantum club now, and is really a testament to the growing relevance of quantum mechanics in society,” guest speaker Wang (‘07) said. “As a researcher in quantum computing, I’m excited to see students engaging with quantum mechanics as early as high school. It’s something I didn’t have.”

Wang, an esteemed Stuyvesant alumnus, was selected as a guest speaker for his profundity in quantum computing and his trajectory from Stuyvesant to the quantum realm. Wang boasts an impressive academic background, having earned a bachelor's degree in Chemistry and Physics at Harvard University. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in physics at Harvard, further solidifying his expertise in the field. “I went to Harvard as an undergraduate and stuck around for grad school. I didn’t take any gap years, and just made the transition straight through. This is my 11th year at Harvard, which is kind of crazy,” Wang said.

Wang’s passion for science first developed through his observations of the world around him. “I have always been interested in science and really liked how mathematics could manifest itself in the everyday world,” he said. “This led to a natural affinity towards physics. One of the earliest examples of this I can think of was first learning how the trajectory of a thrown object, say a baseball, follows exactly a parabola.”

In order to organize the event, collaboration and communication were needed with Wang as well as members of the Stuyvesant community. “Our Director of Outreach, Aareeb Jamil, reached out to him via email. After some back and forth about the timing, we finally agreed on a time and day,” Jha said. “After that, we spread the news about the event on our various social media platforms: Instagram (@StuyQuantum), Facebook (using the Dear Incoming groups), StuyActivities, and Discord. We also used the morning announcements, and emailed all of the [computer science] teachers to share the opportunity with their students.”

The club encountered logistical hurdles during the event, including time limitations imposed by virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meets. “It was inconvenient to have only a set amount of time for the meeting,” Jha said. Nevertheless, the co-presidents and guest speaker were able to create a fruitful event. “The speaker had an interesting presentation and was able to adapt his lecture to a beginner audience and was able to adjust his presentation to the limited meeting time limit we had.”

The speaker event started with a presentation and was followed by a questioning period. “He talked about the basics of quantum computing, algorithms, and hardware, and at the end, we asked questions about his journey and for advice he would give us as high school students,” Jha said. In addition to quantum insights, Wang reminisced about his Stuyvesant journey, sharing anecdotes about former teachers. “[Wang] talked about some of his old Stuy teachers and it was interesting to see how much Stuy changed since he graduated,” Jha said.

Through his presentation, Wang hopes to convey the importance of quantum physics. “Quantum computing is quite a mathematical subject. The mathematics can be relatively simple, but the consequences are profound. Verifying predictions of quantum mechanics in the laboratory is very rewarding, especially since these systems are not ones you can engage with in real life. You can also control very simple systems (think single atoms) very precisely and this is a lot of fun and rewarding.”

However, Wang also emphasizes the vastness of the field. “It is absolutely impossible to cover all of quantum computing in one hour, so it is very important to me to repeat and emphasize just a few key conceptual ideas,” he said. “I also don’t believe you can retain more than 3-5 things after every lecture anyway.”

Ultimately, the speaker event was successful in its goal of introducing students to the quantum field. “I hope [attendees] got a general sense of the state of the field, especially on the physical implementation side of things, where there aren’t a whole lot of books or resources about,” Wang said. “I also hope they get a sense of how cool the field is and are motivated to enter the field in the future. We always need more bright talent, especially from a place like Stuyvesant.”