After her PhD, Elisabetta Valiante spent several years working in a university environment, conducting research in astronomy, but something was missing. Progress in astronomy can take a very long time before having an impact in everyday life, and Elisabetta wanted to do something that would have practical applications earlier. After moving to Vancouver, Elisabetta learned about an opening for the position of computational physicist at 1QBit, and she knew this was the right place and the right time to have a real impact on the world. Her current research constitutes an opportunity to do exactly that, and she credits her team, and their synergy of unique perspectives, with her success.
“I love that I am one of the first people to try new and innovative hardware. I have the opportunity to test very fast tools and find their breaking points.” —Elisabetta Valiante
We recently sat down with Elisabetta to ask about her latest research on high-order binary optimization problems.
What are you currently working on?
I recently submitted a paper, “Scaling Overhead of Locality Reduction in Binary Optimization Problems which discusses measuring the overhead introduced when a problem, whose polynomial form is originally of the third or fourth order, is scaled to a quadratic form (second order). New hardware, which is able to solve these types of problems, became available only recently. The goal of my work is to understand if reduction to a quadratic form, to make the problem potentially simpler, is still useful or if it is better to solve it directly.
That’s quite complex. Do you have an analogy to help us understand your work?
Let’s imagine we want to learn about the behaviour of a wild animal. Until now, we could only take pictures. So, we took a lot of pictures, from different angles and at different times, and, by looking at the pictures, we tried to understand the story. Now, we are able to shoot a movie. In general, it takes more effort to watch a movie than to look at a single picture. On the other hand, it may be difficult to make sense of all the pictures we took. In this analogy, my work measured if it is easier to understand the behaviour of the animal by shooting a movie or by taking the pictures.
What excites you about your work?
I love that I am one of the first people to try new and innovative hardware. I have the opportunity to test very fast tools and find their breaking points. If something does not work, it must be fixed, so that when the hardware is sold on the market, everything will work. Finding the weaknesses of leading-edge hardware is my personal challenge.
Why is your research important? What are the possible real-world applications?
This research is significant because there are several real-life problems that can be formulated using polynomials with orders higher than quadratic and it is important to understand the most efficient way to solve them. Is it still better to reduce these problems to a quadratic form, which is, in principle, easier to solve? Or is it better to use the tools we have now to solve them in their original form?
Some of the problems with high-order polynomial formulation have been studied already at 1QBit, in their reduced quadratic form: for example, molecular similarity, where we have a target molecule and we want to find the molecule most similar to our target in a database with millions of molecules; or molecular conformational sampling, where we want to find the conformation, or the 3D structure, with the minimum energy, among the millions of possible conformations for a molecule. Other possible applications are circuit fault diagnosis and traffic light synchronization.
What are the next steps for this work?
The work presented in the paper was done on synthetic problems. It would be nice to apply what we have learnt on real-life problems. I would like to tell all prospective clients with high-order optimization problems that we know what is the most efficient way to solve them, and we have the tools to do it.
When not testing new, innovative hardware or writing papers, Elisabetta can be found outdoors, enjoying nature with all her senses. She loves to observe wildlife, smell the forest, and feel the sun and wind on her skin. She’s also a foodie who appreciates trying local restaurants and experimenting with new recipes at home. At the end of the day, she curls up on the couch with her cat, Dugan, to watch political and medical dramas on TV. She claims that Dugan prefers the medical dramas.
To learn more about other projects from the 1QBit team, and to view our research and white papers and more, visit the Our Thinking page.