Engineering the Summer: PhD student Kevin Gui at Amazon Web Services

Engineering the Summer is an annual series following molecular engineering students as they embark on summer internships and industry experiences.

From an early age, Kevin Gui knew he wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives. During his undergraduate education, he sought to do that through economics, aiming to improve the fundamental systems driving modern industry.

However, during his senior year, Gui took a road trip that changed the course of his career. On it, he came face to face with a modern quantum laboratory and learned about the outsized impact quantum science would have on society. He knew technology was one of the biggest drivers of economic growth, and quantum science, in his view, was poised to spark a new technological era on par with the industrial revolution.

Kevin Gui, now a fifth-year PhD student at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), studies quantum science and engineering, and this summer, he’s applying that expertise to an internship with Amazon Web Services.

What first sparked your interest in quantum science?

At the beginning of my senior year of college, I visited Yale University, where I met several students and postdocs researching quantum computing hardware. They gave me a warm welcome and showed me around their lab. At the time, they were developing qubits using superconducting circuits. That was the crystallizing moment. Seeing that technology, I realized how soon quantum hardware would be a reality. I wished to also be part of that amazing community of intelligent people to make the dream happen.

The researchers at Yale mentioned that UChicago was one of the top places to study quantum computing, which led me here.

What are you working on at PME?

I’m trying to bridge the gap between available quantum hardware and proposed quantum algorithms. On the hardware side, I’ve worked on optimizing the control pulse sequence of neutral atom gates. On the algorithm side, I’ve worked on optimizing different quantum algorithms during runtime and compilation. One aspect of my research I enjoy the most is its intrinsically interdisciplinary nature. I can apply my knowledge and skills in math, physics, and computer science to different subtopics. I’ve also met many people from different subfields in quantum computing through the quantum system design process.

Talk to me about your internship. How has the experience been?

I am currently exploring practical applications of quantum-enhanced machine learning algorithms. Some scholarly works have shown some benefits of quantum-enhanced machine learning, but we live in a classical world. Because so much information is in classical forms, it is difficult to translate it into good quantum learning tasks. Optimizing that process is part of my focus here.

The environment at Amazon is very collaborative. I’ve received a good deal of very useful advice from different departments, including AWS Center for Quantum Computing, Amazon Braket, AWS Quantum Solutions Lab, and AWS AI Labs. Interacting with the intelligent and talented folks here is a blessing.

I’ve also been involved in the business side of things. I was part of the first AWS monthly workshop team that offered a series of tutorials to an audience of 500 people. I gave an introduction talk on quantum machine learning and led a hands-on coding session.

How has the environment at PME influenced your work?

The best part of PME is our diverse student body. As a quantum computing system and architecture researcher, I can get input and support not only from students doing research in quantum device theory and experimentation, but also from students in polymer materials and immunology.

Those conversations are hugely valuable. The students from Prof. Liang Jiang and Prof. Aashish Clerk’s labs have helped me dig into device theory. Students from Prof. David Awschalom and Prof. Andrew Cleland’s labs have taught me a lot about device experimental setups.

On the non-quantum side, students in Prof. Matthew Tirrell and Prof. Jeffrey Hubbell’s labs were generous enough to help me when I was applying to the innovation fund associate program at the Polsky Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Have you discovered any other opportunities at UChicago?

Outside of research, I’ve been involved in some entrepreneurial programs on campus. I participated in the I-Corps program, where participants came up with some startup ideas and tried to test them through conversations with potential customers.

I’ve also participated in the George Shultz Innovation Fund associate program, a venture capital experience where we make real-money investment recommendations on deep tech spin-outs from UChicago, Fermilab, and Argonne. This was a very valuable experience for me. Not only did it show me all the steps involved in turning a brilliant scientific idea into a successful business, but it also gave me a realistic snapshot of how venture capitalists think about science and how we, as scientists can partner with them.

PME is one of the nation’s leading institutions in quantum engineering research and education. Its PhD in Quantum Science and Engineering was one of the first degrees in the country dedicated specifically to this rapidly emerging field.