April 16, 2019
Pranav Gokhale was born and raised in suburban Maryland. Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, he worked as a product engineer at Quora. He is now in his second year of UChicago’s Computer Science Ph.D. program. We interviewed him via email about his experiences at UChicago.
What have you been studying or researching as part of your program?
My research is in quantum computing, a new field at the intersection of computer science and physics. Specifically, I study architectures for these new machines, with the aim of accelerating the timeline for useful quantum computation.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
My advisor (Fred Chong) and his interdisciplinary research in quantum computing drew me to UChicago. Quantum computing is a cross-cutting field by nature—it spans chemistry, computer science, math, and physics. UChicago has poised itself well to bridge and amplify its individual strengths in these fields. For example, my advisor is the leader of EPiQC (Enabling Practical-scale Quantum Computing), a mega-collaboration that aims to reduce the gap between quantum algorithms and quantum hardware by 100x. It seemed (and still seems!) like UChicago offers some of the best opportunities for high-impact quantum research.
Describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.
One of my projects has been on breaking the traditional binary (bit) abstraction in quantum computing. What started as an attempt to fix a pesky bottleneck in a quantum algorithm turned into a deep dive into a fundamental architectural question of what computing base/radix to use. We ended up involving experimentalists who have experience controlling ternary (three-level) systems and our simulations demonstrate that these systems have a significant advantage over traditional binary computation. Our research won the Best Poster award at a conference earlier this year, and we’ll be publishing a full paper soon.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I love mountain sports like rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking. Of course, there aren’t any mountains near Chicago, but I’ve found substitutes—I spend a lot of my free time bouldering, road biking (the lakefront is incredible), and running. Research has been surprisingly conducive to travel too. For example, this summer, I’ll be traveling to Colorado for a conference, and I’ll be able to spend a week climbing while I’m out there!
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I think I would like to end up in industry—there is a growing commercial effort to apply quantum computing towards important problems in chemistry, logistics, and medicine. I’d love to be a part of that effort. I do also like teaching though, so I’m trying to keep that door open as well. Fortunately, I can defer the industry vs. teaching decision for another few years, so for now I’m just focusing on my research.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
I’m grateful for secondary funding from the Physical Science Division’s Eckhardt Fellowship. Apart from the stipend, the Eckhardt community has been really fun. Our quarterly social events have included ice skating, dim sum, an improv workshop, board game night, and theatre show. It’s been a great way to make friends across the physical science departments.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
The weather really isn’t all that bad.
But in all honestly, graduate studies at UChicago are demanding but rewarding. There are so many opportunities here.
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion is valued?
Back when I lived in California, I volunteered as a telescope operator and “sky docent” at a public observatory in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Every Friday evening session would attract a diverse group of families from across the Bay Area. My volunteer experience introduced me to science outreach, something that I have stayed engaged with at UChicago through CS outreach initiatives like CompileHER and the GWiCS mentorship program. I think diversity and inclusion are particularly valued at UChicago given its location in an extremely diverse city.