Akel Hashim received this year’s ASTER (AS&T Excellence in Research) Award at the University of California, Berkeley. One of three awardees, Hashim is part of the research team at the Advanced Quantum Testbed (AQT) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and a Ph.D. student in Applied Physics at the Applied Science and Technology graduate program.

The ASTER Award recognizes graduate students at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering for their contributions and excellence in scientific research. Hashim’s faculty advisor is Berkeley Lab AQT Director and UC Berkeley Physics Professor Irfan Siddiqi.

“I am entering a competitive quantum workforce. It’s also always nice to get recognition for the achievements and the hard work. It’s like a benchmark or a notch on your belt, especially useful when looking for research opportunities or jobs. It tells you that you’re on the right track.”

Hashim’s research has focused on improving the reliability of quantum computers in the era of noisy intermediate-scale devices. And he does so, by examining the sources of noise (random perturbations) and systematic errors, such as coherent errors. Coherent errors result in an incorrect operation on a qubit. Hashim notes that these types of errors severely limit the performance of quantum algorithms because they compound on each other over time and worsen as more qubits are added to a single quantum processor. One technique for mitigating the impact of coherent errors is randomized compiling. Hashim recently co-published the first experimental demonstration of randomized compiling.

Hashim joins dozens of quantum scientists and engineers at AQT, looking to pave the way for practical quantum computers. And like many researchers at AQT, Hashim’s background is multidisciplinary and diverse. After finishing a dual undergraduate degree in science (Physics & Astronomy) and arts (Spanish), Hashim worked for several years in different tech companies and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Then, driven by a desire to solve complex science problems, Hashim returned to graduate school at UC Berkeley. It was only until his second year in the graduate AS&T program that he switched his concentration to quantum computing.

“Quantum mechanics is a tough subject to understand and to grasp, especially on an intuitive level. Physics is just hard, and it doesn’t come easy to me, but being in that place where I have to push myself to be better, is a good feeling. For me, quantum computing is the definition of applied physics. You’re still building a computer, a programming interface, all these things. It really checked all my boxes for doing something in applied science.”