Wright State University alumna Nella Ludlow, Ph.D., has returned to the university to lead a new program in quantum computing and establish research opportunities between the Air Force and Wright State.
After teaching computer science courses at Wright State as an adjunct professor for several years, Ludlow has joined the university as the director of quantum computing initiatives and research professor of computer science and engineering.
She is responsible for building a research team in quantum computing and pursuing partnerships with the Defense Department, the Air Force and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in quantum computing research, education and workforce development.
She said that the quantum computing program can help the Air Force solve large and complex logistical challenges, train military personnel and civilian contractors in the fast-growing discipline and prepare students for programming careers when they graduate.
“I want to make us a center of excellence in quantum computing,” said Ludlow, who received her master’s degree in computer science from Wright State.
Quantum computing harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to process information using quantum bits, or qubits, that can represent both a 0 and a 1 at the same time, allowing quantum computers to process information millions to trillions of times faster than normal computers.
To explain how quantum computing works, Ludlow suggests imagining a coin that while spinning is neither heads nor tails, but instead is both. “We take advantage of that concept and create software that could potentially try all the possible solutions to a problem at the same time,” she said.
She describes quantum computing as a disruptive technology with such dramatic speed improvements that real tractable solutions to hard problems could be solved in hours and days. These same problems would take hundreds of years to solve on the best supercomputers, by brute-forcing their way searching through all possible solutions.
Quantum computing has applications in many fields, including manufacturing, transportation, communication, medicine and banking.
“It is being used to find new medicines to trying to solve issues like global warming to cracking encryption,” Ludlow said.
Ludlow sees numerous opportunities for the Air Force and Wright State to collaborate. For instance, quantum computing can assist the Air Force, which leads the way in quantum computing among the branches of the U.S. military, with encryption and solving complex transportation and logistical challenges.
Wright State can help the Air Force and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with staffing by training personnel and students. Ludlow plans to create short courses to introduce quantum computing to active duty and civilian personnel and train engineers to use quantum computers.
Ludlow also sees possibilities for collaborative research between Wright State and the Air Force to investigate new techniques in quantum computing.
“Having a partnership between Wright State and the Air Force is really key because there are so many initiatives. They also need a workforce, and we can provide expertise and consulting,” Ludlow said.
Wright State President Sue Edwards, Ph.D., said, “I am thrilled to see Wright State lead efforts into new and disruptive technologies, such as quantum computing. The potential of quantum computing is to revolutionize high-performance computing allowing us to solve problems that were previously considered unattainable.”
Ludlow is uniquely qualified to lead a collaboration with the Air Force.
She not only is an expert in quantum computing and artificial intelligence, but she also served in the Air Force for 16 years as a pilot, intelligence officer, mathematician, professor and researcher. While working at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rome Laboratory in New York State, she served as the Air Force’s technical director of artificial intelligence.
“Nella has the combined expertise of quantum computing coupled with understanding the Air Force mission, making her the ideal candidate for this new position at Wright State,” said Madhavi Kadakia, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation at Wright State.
Ludlow earned bachelor’s degrees in math and physics from Washington State University and a master’s degree in computer science from Wright State.
She received an Air Force scholarship to study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where she earned a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence. She then participated in postdoctoral work in computer science at the University of Cambridge in England.
After retiring from the Air Force, she worked for several tech companies, including a Microsoft-funded startup where she wrote computer software for wireless devices. She was also the CEO of a publicly traded company that produced technology to read ID cards and rang the opening bell at the stock market.
In 2015, Ludlow joined the faculty at Washington State, serving as professor of computer science and mathematics, and later was named the director of data analytics and helped develop a new degree program. She continues to teach at Washington State as an adjunct professor of mathematics.
She expanded her career in higher education by joining Wright State’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering as an adjunct faculty member.
This semester, she is teaching a Ph.D. course in algorithms and a quantum computing course, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students. It’s the fourth time she has taught the quantum computing course at Wright State.
Michael Raymer, Ph.D., professor and chair of computer science and engineering, said, “Nella Ludlow has taught quantum computing at Wright State for three years now, putting us well ahead of many other universities that are just starting their quantum computing course offerings. Her courses are very popular — quickly filling up, as students like her as an instructor, and they realize this is a rapidly growing area in computer science.”
International Data Corporation projects that the worldwide quantum computing market will grow at over 50% compounded annual growth rate through the year 2027.
Thanks to Ludlow’s relationship with IBM, a leader in quantum computing, Wright State students have free access to quantum computers, which they can use to work on real problems, potentially identified by the Air Force.
“It’s not just academic. They get to actually write software for quantum computers,” Ludlow said of her students.
Ludlow’s current research is focused on combining classic, or everyday, computers with quantum computers in a hybrid approach to make quantum computing more accessible and tractable to solve real problems.
For more information about Wright State’s quantum computing program, contact Nella Ludlow at email@example.com.