Emerging Tech
"What is a Qubit"
Quantum VR
By: Jamie Barras | March 31, 2021
“What’s a Qubit?” is a virtual reality experience designed to teach fundamental building blocks of quantum computing through a virtual reality immersive experience.

The experience allows you to fly through a quantum computer at the size of a single molecule and witness the truly strange world of quantum mechanics up close. Before reviewing the project, experience "What's A Qubit?" here.

Quantum computing is fundamentally different from the classical computers we are used to using today. How quantum computers represent and process information is completely different than their classical counterparts so the types of problems that can be solved with a quantum computer are also different. This application is a step towards starting to understand some of these fundamental differences so that we can start to identify problems for these new machines. Virtual reality is an effective way to create a learning experience. Unlike videos and articles, we believe that a multisensory experience that includes visuals, audio, haptics, and control, will create a lasting memory by teaching in a way that no other medium can achieve.

The Challenge

One of the challenges that we faced was how we can represent complex and scientific quantum theories in an immersive experience and be able to share this experience with a broad audience.

We had many questions including: Which quantum experiments work best in VR? Will the user get the sensation of shrinking to subatomic size? Can virtual reality help communicate the concepts in a way that can be understood by someone curious about quantum computers without expertise?

The value

Providing an immersive educational experience to learn about quantum computing may spark ideas and use cases for this nascent technology. Creating new ways to explain complex and abstract ideas is at the core of what FCAT does.

Team & Tech

FCAT is fortunate to have some of the best creative technologists in the industry. Our developers are experts in Unity and very comfortable developing creative solutions in real time while the team discusses and tests different approaches to technical and visual solutions. Our designers are also highly engaged to the point that they want to get their hands dirty in Unity.

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There is no substitute for prototyping in VR other than doing it in VR. Sketches and images are useful at the beginning, but once you are developing and conceptualizing in VR, developers require the freedom to explore and develop the concept.

To give as many people access to the experience as possible, the team decided to create this experience in WebXR. WebXR is a group of standards that makes it possible to experience VR in a standard web browser. WebXR detects connected VR headsets to a user’s device and lets the user choose between a headset or using a web browser. With so many new XR devices coming up, using WebXR allowed us to develop once and deploy it to multiple devices.

The WebXR Device API implements the core of the WebXR feature set

  • Recognize compatible VR/AR devices
  • Render 3D scene to the devices at an appropriate frame
  • Mirror output to 2D display
  • Create vectors representing the movement of input controls

Mozilla created a WebXR exporter for Unity which allows enables developers to create rich XR experiences using Unity and its powerful timeline tool.

The Deep Dive

What’s a Qubit?: In this immersive, fundamentally different VR experience, the user travels through a quantum computer, miniaturized to sub-atomic level in order to explore the fundamental building blocks of quantum computing. Quantum mechanics is one of the most proven theories in all of science; at the same time, it's one of the most challenging to understand.

Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel prize for quantum electrodynamics, said “if you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics”. This quote is a little misleading because we do understand quantum physics very well. He was merely pointing out the strangeness you’ll experience in this journey. Quantum technology has led us to invent such things as classic computers, photo detectors, light emitting diodes, lasers, and nuclear power.

Quantum physics is the science that helps us understand the smallest of things in our universe: down to the molecular level including atoms, electrons, and photons. Everything that we know is made up of quantum physics. Although quantum physics plays a part in our everyday lives, we still do not understand how certain events occur. This immersive VR experience is designed to shed some light on some quantum phenomena but also spark interest and thinking on the part of the user.

Experiment 1: As we pass through the world of classic physics into the world of quantum physics, we stop for our first experiment. Although we shrunk to 0.01% of our original size, we are still in the world where objects follow the classical physics model. That is, if we toss something we can predict where it may end up landing with a fair amount of accuracy.

Here we are going to recreate one of the most well-known quantum discoveries that proves something called particle-wave duality. Our first experiment has two parts. We are going to illustrate the difference between classic physics in the first part and quantum physics in the second.

We can observe these electrons going through one slit, but the interference pattern on the wall acts as if there are two electrons going through the slits simultaneously. The weird thing about electrons is that at appears to be doing both of those things at the same time. It seems to go through both slits at once, but it is in fact just one particle.

Experiment 2: Classic computers are based on bits. Imagine them as little switches pointing to either one or zero, in an up or down state. Quantum computing relies on quantum bits, or qubits, which can also represent a zero or a one. The strange thing is, qubits can also attain a mixed state called superposition, a qubit in superposition has both the probability of being a 1 and a probability of being 0 at the same time. The actual value isn't committed until it is measured.

This uncertainty, the capacity to both be and not be, is key to the power of quantum computing. Qubits made from electrons store information in the spin momentum of that electron. A spin of a single electron in a magnetic field can either be in the spin down, low energy, or in the spin up, high energy state. Quantum computers control the spin of a qubit by dropping the temperature to nearly absolute zero.

Experiment 3: Now things really get strange, or as Einstein called it “spooky”. In the next and final experiment let’s take a look at entangled particles, more commonly known as quantum entanglement.

When two particles are entangled, it means that their quantum states are interdependent, and they do not behave like two independent objects. But if we measure one by merely observing it, that other is immediately known to us. No matter what the state of its entangled partner is.

“What’s a qubit?” wraps up back in the lab for an experiment review. We hope the user walks away with a deeper curiosity and a better understanding of the quantum world.

Launch the VR experience here.

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