Algorithms for everyone
The experts all agree: Quantum computing will revolutionize data processing. However, the technology is still not readily accessible for many. Dr. Christian Tutschku wants to change this.
Ten years ago, no one would have ever predicted that Dr. Tutschku would one day become a quantum software engineer — not even Dr. Tutschku himself. At the time, he was well on the way to becoming a high school teacher and would perhaps be teaching a class today had an incident not triggered a small but decisive change of direction.
He had decided on a career in teaching because he wanted to do something involving sports and was passionate about teaching. That was what he enjoyed most besides music, and for a communicative young man who liked to convey ideas to others, it seemed like the right fit. However, the sports fitness test, of all things, threw a wrench in the works. For health reasons, he had to stop shortly before the end and could only make up for it in the following semester. As he did not want to be idle in the meantime, he went ahead and enrolled at the University of Würzburg, choosing mathematics as his first subject and physics as his second, thinking that he would drop the latter after a short while. However, things did not turn out as expected: He found physics, particularly quantum mechanical principles, so interesting that, after two and a half years, he gave up the teacher training to focus solely on physics instead. In doing so, he did not lose anything — on the contrary, his pedagogical knowledge and teaching experience are valuable additional qualifications to this day. “Communication is a skill that isn’t covered in a science degree, so I’m grateful that I was able to pick that up,” says the 30-year-old.
Tutschku enjoyed research and wrote his bachelor thesis on particle physics in his early twenties, although he switched from this very abstract field to solid state physics for his master’s degree, because he wanted to focus on applied research. Even back then, he specialized in the future-oriented field of quantum computing, which he then chose as the subject of his PhD thesis. On January 1, 2021, immediately after his doctorate, he joined Fraunhofer IAO, where he now heads the Quantum Computing team.
Among the projects that Tutschku and his team are currently working on is SEQUOIA, which involves more than 20 companies. SEQUOIA stands for “software engineering for industrial, hybrid quantum applications and algorithms”. What sounds very complicated essentially means that they are researching, developing and testing new methods and tools for quantum computing in order to make this new technology useable for businesses. “Put simply, we are trying to use quantum mechanics to resolve industry issues. That is to say, we are improving their algorithms and software solutions so that their processes are faster and more efficient.” Many different businesses can benefit from the project, for example a logistics company that wants to optimize its truck routes or a producer that wants to know how to optimally cut a large metal sheet so that there is as little waste as possible. Ultimately, it is about using simulations to compare different variations of a possible course of action, such as truck routes, to find the best solution. In this respect, quantum computing has a significant advantage: While a conventional computer can only test these variations one by one, a quantum computer can do this all in one go, roughly speaking, because all the different alternatives can be processed in parallel. This accelerates the process tremendously.
This new technology is still only useable to a limited extent, but it offers enormous potential. This is what fascinates Tutschku about his work: He is at the forefront of developing something new and can contribute to making the world just that little bit better. “For example, when you succeed in reducing empty journeys — and consequently diesel consumption — thanks to better truck routes, you are contributing to sustainability and protecting the environment,” he explains.
Given that the first quantum computer in Europe is located in Ehningen in Baden-Württemberg and that the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has exclusive access to it, Tutschku is now tasked with passing on his knowledge. Since January 27, 2022, Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart and Fraunhofer IAF in Freiburg have been offering interested companies a series of training sessions on how quantum computers operate and their potential applications. In this regard, Tutschku has become a sort of teacher after all, albeit a very different one from the one he originally had in mind.