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Playing Quantum

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - QPlay (Playing Quantum)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-02-29

We are in the midst of the second quantum revolution which sees the uprise of an emergent quantum industry. Everywhere around the globe research institutions, big companies, and startups are investing more and more in education, training, and research to support the growing quantum ecosystem. Europe has invested several billions euros, partly through the Quantum Technologies Flagship programme, which started in 2018. Quantum technologies promise to impact notably our society by tackling the greatest global challenges, from global health (drug synthesis and discovery), to energy (quantum batteries), to AI and robotics. It is therefore crucial both to educate the new generation of quantum engineers, and to involve and inform the general public in what is expected to be the most disruptive technological revolution of the new millennium.
We face, however, a great challenge: quantum physics is notoriously difficult to teach and a correct explanation of quantum physics phenomena requires mathematical language. This also holds for all quantum technologies, including quantum computing. As a consequence, all the existing courses on quantum physics and quantum technologies rely, on a higher or smaller degree, on the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, even when they are addressed at audiences with no specific background in physics. Even when the targeted audience is specialised, such as for example undergraduate and graduate students in physics, University lecturers face the challenge of fully engaging the students, and new learning approaches are highly desired. This leads to the question: can we envisage an approach to teach quantum technology concepts in a new manner which complements the existing traditional approaches, provides a gradual learning process initially based on experience and playful activities, and is also specifically suitable for non-experts, science amateurs, or employees of companies needing retraining?
We believe that the answer to this question is positive. We have envisaged a learning strategy consisting of three phases: 1) Experience - Play - Experiment; 2) Physical Concept; 3) Mathematical Description. In the initial phase the learner is exposed to quantum physics phenomena via games, videos, experiences, challenges, and experiments. In a second phase the related physical concepts are introduced and explained in a language easy to understand. Only after this, the mathematical description of the physical phenomenon is introduced and discussed extensively. Finally the game experiences are revisited in the light of the new acquired knowledge. By engaging the students/learners in playful and creative activities at the very beginning of the learning process, we raise their interest in the topic and ignite their enthusiasm, at the same time demystifying what could be initially perceived as a very demanding subject.
QPlayLearn mission is to reinvent the way in which quantum physics and quantum technologies are taught, by creating a multimedia learning platform which is engaging, inspiring, scientifically accurate, customisable to different learning needs/abilities, and fun!
We have developed the QBB plug in for Unity and a first prototype of game for citizen science utilising the QBB, that is QWiz, a quantum wizard game for VR, web browers, tablets and mobile phone. We have also developed an educational game for learning quantum programming running on a real quantum computer: Q|Cards>, using Qiskit and IBM Q Experience. We have developed an art&science installation, the Quantum Garden, showing a quantum walk and illustrating visually concepts such as quantum superposition, interference and quantum measurement. We have developed the concept for a new experience, the Quantum Playground based on the idea of Quantum garden but available to everyone in different platforms, namely, VR, web browers, tablets and mobile phone. More on the prototypes is described in D 1.1.
We have developed the concept of what will be our main first product of the startup we intend to create, namely the QPlayLearn online multimedia learning platform to teach quantum computing to three targeted audiences: secondary school students, University students, and company employees. More on QPlayLearn can be found in D 3.2.
We have co-organised, together with Finnish Game Jam and IBM a superstar Quantum Game Jam which took placed in Helsinki on 15-17 February 2019. Moreover, we organised a number of smaller hackathons and brainstorming meetings with the MiTale team of developers. We have hosted for a 10-days research visit to the University of Turku Dr. James Wootton from IBM Research Zurich, who works on the development of games for quantum computers, and Dr. Tony Apollaro from the University of Malta who is an expert in quantum technologies and in public outreach.
We have organised an exhibition on Quantum Technologies, “Quantum Explorations” where all our prototypes where exhibited, in Dipoli, Aalto University from 16.10.2019 - 15.11.2019. The opening of the exhibition coincided with the Welcome Reception of the Quantum Flagship Community meeting which took place in Helsinki on October 16th-17th. Our games were exceptionally well received and several scientists asked us if and where they could buy them.
The Quantum Garden was exhibited in ten different events/museums around the world, including Heureka Science Museum in Helsinki, Jeff Bezo’s MARS conference in Palm Springs, and Sónar+D in Barcelona, among others (full list at quantumgarden.net).
QWiz was exhibited at the Quantum Exploration exhibition, at the exhibition “Science is Wonderful!” in Brussels which took place on 25 and 26 September 2019.
QWiz and the QBB are citizen science projects. Citizen science is a movement to democratize science by allowing citizens to contribute towards scientific research for a better future. At the core of citizen science lies the emergence of an amazing global collaboration between citizens and researchers, that can inspire and discover new things together.

The use of games for citizen science projects is relatively new. In the specific case of quantum physics research games, only very few examples, other than QWiz, have been developed in a few laboratories around the world. Contrarily to the existing quantum citizen science projects, which are customised to the needs of the individual research group who has developed the projects, the spirit behind the QBB is to develop a tool that would be interchangeable, hence able to be used for a wide class of optimisation problems.
Generally, the impact of the spreading of games with a purpose should not only be measured in their contribution to research, but also in the dissemination of research ideas, leading to scientific literacy. Moreover, they are expected to give a strong contribution to the engagement of young public in science.

The use of games for education in quantum physics is a very novel idea with high potential impact. Quantum physics is indeed notoriously difficult to explain and to understand and often requires a very advanced knowledge of mathematics. Gamification offers a new take on this approach by allowing a new learning method which starts from experience and experiment, then introduces the physical concept and finally the more abstract mathematical concept.
Quantum Garden