A quantum mechanics course that I was doing at IIT led me to an article about quantum computing which immediately captured my interest. I found it to be the most “trending” topic right now with a lot of groups working on it. So when I started mailing in September, I applied mainly to groups focussed on quantum computing and quantum information. I catered my mails specifically for each professor, keeping in mind their relevant area of research; but when I didn’t get a lot of responses, I inevitably resorted to bulk mailing with just a few tweaks to each mail, and that, kids, is how I got my internship at Rice University, Texas.
The selection process consisted of two stages - the first was a technical round and the second, which I think is unique to Rice University, was an English test. In my interview with the professor, he asked me about my interests, especially focusing on projects I had done in the past. The professors know that we don’t have any prerequisite knowledge required for an internship, so they put a lot of emphasis on projects. I believe my winter project and the ELL project I did in my first year secured my internship. And of course, a good CG always helps.
I had the interview in September, he mentioned he’d take me in November, I didn’t get a confirmation mail until January, and the internship finally started in May.
I was supposed to build a helical resonator for a trapped ion quantum computer. I had to construct and model the resonator to achieve a high Q-factor for the Paul Trap (the place where the ions are trapped) Since there are very few research papers available that elaborate on the construction, I had to basically build it entirely from scratch, combining a theoretical model and simulating it efficiently.
TL;DR: You know RLC circuits, right? So I came up with a model to transfer maximum power from the source to the trap through impedance matching.
A month into the internship when I was still struggling to work from home, I talked to a scientist who advised me to access higher computational facilities to do the simulations, insisting that they can never be processed on a laptop. When I approached the professor with my dilemma, he did not hesitate in giving me access to a workstation at the university which was highly unexpected. Coincidentally, an idea struck me the following day that reduced the time to solve for a single parameter from an hour to just a few minutes, taking down the total time of the simulation to a mere 15 minutes. Despite the many corrections and subsequent upgradations, simulating the model efficiently remains my most memorable experience.
I noticed that the professor laid a lot of importance on intuition. He asked me to rely heavily on it to solve problems, to the extent that I built an entire model based off of it. They allowed room for mistakes as well. When I wasn’t able to produce any results for about 2 weeks due to the lack of research papers in that field, the professor was very understanding of my circumstances and helped me out of that work slump.
Two days before the completion of my internship, the professor noticed a glitch in our model, something he hadn’t encountered during his 15 years of work. That day we were on a video call for nearly 7 hours and after working our asses off, we were able to resolve the problem and work out a detailed proof of our model’s validity. That moment though, when our entire model nearly collapsed, was terrifyingly unforgettable.
This internship helped me learn a lot of new things, the most trivial of which were reading through research papers efficiently and learning new software like Mathematica and Comsol. But more importantly, it introduced me to a new way of problem-solving and made me trust and hone my intuition. To anyone thinking of going for a foreign intern, I’d suggest you start mailing early and try to do a project under a professor. And don’t be discouraged by a remote intern, because on the bright side - you’re no longer restricted to just one intern ;)
(I was simultaneously doing a project under a professor here at IIT Delhi on anti-tank mines)
Interviewed by: Mariya Ezzy