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Google PhD Fellowship for Lia Yeh

Google has announced 67 new doctoral students as recipients of their competitive PhD Fellowships. Lia Yeh, a DPhil in student at Oriel College, is among them. She is the only recipient completing their doctorate in the UK.

Lia began her DPhil in Computer Science as a Clarendon and Basil Reeve Scholar at Oriel College in 2020 and is working in the field of quantum computing, as part of the Quantum Group in the Department of Computer Science.

As a new field emerging from various others, quantum computing involves an intermeshing of a range of academic disciplines — mathematics, quantum physics and computer science, among others.

One of the main focuses of Lia’s work is bringing together various strands of research. She said this will allow researchers from different academic disciplines to talk to one another, communicating their findings.

“Only when we bridge these gaps between disciplines will we bridge the gap between quantum computers and their potential,” she added.

“I’m curious about how we’re going to reconcile the intensely mathematical algorithms with the applications we’d like to do with quantum computers.”

Lia envisions a future in which quantum computing is used for the public good but believes all technology can be used for both good and bad purposes.

Quantum computers may be able to decrypt passwords in the fraction of the time of modern “classical” computers. But they also have the potential to ameliorate some of our most urgent problems, Lia argues.

Lia pictured with artwork, created by DPhil student Hamza Waseem in collaboration with artist Nicola Green, depicting quantum teleportation as a mathematically formal diagram.

Something Lia is passionate about is outreach: she believes equalising educational opportunities and “challenging perceptions of who can be scientists” are important steps in turning quantum computation into a reality.

She is part of a dedicated team at the University of Oxford trialling a “reasoning through pictures” approach to teaching advanced quantum computational concepts to school students. Her hope is that the approach will make quantum computing seem more accessible and approachable, and less “mathematically dense”.

“I would be nowhere near doing computer science and physics if not for certain moments I had while learning and teaching that changed what I thought was possible and what was important,” she said.

Lia wished to express her thanks to Google, “for the opportunity”, the faculty at UC Santa Barbara, “for getting me started as a researcher”, and her supervisors Aleks Kissinger (University of Oxford) and John van de Wetering (University of Amsterdam), “for their support in overcoming the challenge of starting my DPhil journey in the middle of a pandemic.”

Google said in a statement: “We have given these students unique fellowships to acknowledge their contributions to their areas of specialty and provide funding for their education and research. We look forward to working closely with them as they continue to become leaders in their respective fields.”