CS undergrad receives
two major honors

IRIS CONG, a senior UCLA computer science major, received two major honors this year recognizing her accomplishments and potential. In April Cong was one of 6 CS majors nationwide to be named a 2016 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. In September Cong was invited to attend the 2016 Heidelberg Laureate Forum. The event in Germany connects 200 top undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars in mathematics and computer science worldwide, with pioneers in the fields who have the most prestigious of recognitions, such as the Turing Award and the Fields Medal.

You were at UC Santa Barbara over the summer. What did you work on? What did you learn?
Iris Cong: I did a research internship at Microsoft Station Q this summer, which is directed by Fields medalist Professor Michael Freedman. This group works on topological quantum computing, which uses topology to perform fault-tolerant quantum computing. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with world-class professors in math and physics, which complemented my CS background well.

My adviser, Professor Zhenghan Wang, gave me an exceptional experience this summer. From my first day, we spent at least four hours together each day. He started by teaching me a lot of math and physics, but soon, these discussions matured into many original research ideas. In the end, we wrote a 117-page research paper on topological quantum computation (just posted on arXiv at http://arxiv.org/abs/1609.02037), with numerous contributions in math, physics, and CS. I’m pretty sure this will be the most productive 12 weeks of my life.

Cong developed an algorithm to exponentially speed up applications on quantum computing platforms.

What are you hoping to get out of the Heidelberg experience?
Cong: I’m really excited to meet all of the laureates. I’d love to hear their opinions on the current research frontiers, which may also help me decide on my future research areas.

How did you first get interested in quantum computing/quantum machine learning?
Cong: I first learned about quantum computing when I ran into my Physics 1A Professor Michael Jura a quarter after the class. He knew I was interested in CS, so he mentioned it as a conversation starter. I did some brief research and decided this was the perfect field for me, as I love math, physics, and CS equally.

For UCLA undergraduates in any major who are interested in research, do you have one piece of advice that would help make their experience more worthwhile?
Cong: Be open to all kinds of ideas—especially those spanning many disciplines: By pursuing two different paths for the same project, it’s much easier to keep moving. If you get stuck in one direction, the other may still be clear. It’s very enlightening when they match up in the end. This was especially important for me this summer, when two chapters of our paper produced perfectly corresponding results using completely separate approaches in math and physics.