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SC quantum computing program sees first success with USC student-run project


SC quantum computing program sees first success with USC student-run project

Mar 22, 2024 | 3:34 pm ET
By Jessica Holdman
SC quantum computing program sees first success with USC student-run project
Left to right, University of South Carolina students Jack Oberman, of Irmo; Carter Burns, of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Jordan Fowler, of Charleston; speak with Richland County Council Chairwoman Jesica Mackey and Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann on Friday, March 22, 2024. The group was the first recipient of a grant from the SC Quantum Association, an association that wants to train students for careers in the cutting-edge technology. (Jessica Holdman/SC Daily Gazette)

COLUMBIA — University of South Carolina seniors studying finance and computer science were the first participants in a taxpayer-funded initiative to train Palmetto State students on a quantum supercomputer for future high-tech, high-paying jobs.

Jordan Fowler, of Charleston; Carter Burns, of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Jack Oberman, of Irmo, were part of a $20,000 research project funded by the newly formed South Carolina Quantum Association. The trio used quantum computing to improve retirement investment strategies used by a Columbia-area bank they declined to identify.

Now the Quantum Association is looking for five to seven other South Carolina companies with mountains of data to sift through that may benefit from quantum computing access. The association will then pair those companies with university students and researchers to come up with industry solutions while turning students into specialists of this next-era technology through hands-on training.

$15M effort to train SC students on supercomputers starts at USC

The association, funded through a $15 million earmark in the state budget, is using a portion of that money to rent time on a quantum computer that’s housed at the University of Maryland but accessed through a web portal in the nonprofit’s office in Columbia’s Five Points.

The quantum computer can solve in minutes complex calculations involving vast numbers of data points that would take years using a standard computer.

In the case of the USC students, they ran simulations to determine what the best investments would be for a person seeking to retire by a certain age. Those simulations account for everything from weather patterns to war and the impacts those things have on publicly traded companies, according to the association’s organizer, Joe Queenan.

In working on the project, the students used rented time on the out-of-state computer while being coached by the association’s experts. In the end, the bank will benefit from a new, complex investment model not currently available to most banks in the region.

With their new-found data analytics and computing skills, the USC students took part in The Massachusetts Institute of Technology iQuHack Hackathon competition last month, facing off against 300 other students and earning a third-place finish.

Their next goal is to apply what they have learned to a small hedge fund that two of the students in the group founded, called Shaw Circle. They want to grow their business and carve out careers for themselves in the financial sector.

“We’ve got students from the Darla Moore School of Business who went to MIT and competed against several national teams on a level that we’re just not used to around here,” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who sponsored the $15 million earmark approved in the state budget last year.

The Columbia Democrat championed the effort as an economic development investment in the state’s “intellectual capital.”

“These are the best and the brightest,” Harpootlian said of the USC students. “They demonstrated that given access to a quantum computer and given access to this technology, students in this state can excel.”

It’s Harpootlian’s hope that, when these students graduate in the spring, they will stay in Columbia as they seek to grow their hedge fund business.

According to the students, quantum computing could allow them to simultaneously analyze trillions of investment combinations to find the most profitable.

“We now have access to a larger amount of data, and we’re able to crunch that to make better informed decisions for ourselves and our investors,” Burns said.

Rather than taking hours on a standard computer, they’re receiving training on how to use a quantum computer to get their calculation time down to minutes, Fowler added.

The students have largely invested on behalf of friends and family willing to contribute to their fund, Burns said.

“Now it’s time to get some real capital into it, hire some bright minds and grow it,” Burns said. “We want to bring opportunities to people in the South.”

They hope to bring in investors from around the Southeast and increase their fund’s size to between $25 million and $50 million. Having the added benefit of quantum computing skills could make their small team more successful when it comes to picking the best deals for their clients, allowing them to compete even when up against larger investment firms, they said.

Supporting student groups like this one is just one portion of what the quantum association hopes to accomplish.

Later phases of the state-funded initiative involve designing a quantum computing specialty degree program that colleges across the state could replicate.

At least one of those will be offered at a historically Black college in South Carolina. Organizers also want to launch an online training academy for workers looking to transfer into a high-tech career.