I'm Mithrandir24601 (if it's not obvious, that's not actually my real name. Finding my real name is left as an exercise for the reader :P Bonus points for those who know both origins of that username) and I have, for some unknown reason, been asked to do the next AMA.

Owing to other commitments, it will be at 8pm (UTC) on the 22nd August.

As far as I'm aware, the idea is that you can answer this with any questions you've got in advance and, during the AMA, I'll do my best to answer the most popular ones (assuming I get any!).


I was born and grew up in the cold but green north coast of Northern Ireland before moving to England to start my degree. I've been there as a student for almost 5 years and will (if all goes well) be here for another 3 years.

I did my Bachelor's in Physics and Computer Science, which involved a very broad mix (for the UK, at least) in basic (relatively theoretical) computer science (I only did it for a year), maths for natural science, programming and of course, physics. I then did a Master's in Mathematical physics and am now a physics (well, quantum engineering) PhD student at Bristol.

Other interests include music, cooking, reading and historical martial arts.

Academic Interests

  • Quantum Computing
    • In my third year of my undergrad, I did a literature review on superconducting quantum computers
    • I have spent a week visiting D-Wave (part of the PhD course I do :) )
    • I'm a user of IBM's quantum experience
    • I'm just finishing a project in t-designs, which are used in randomised benchmarking of quantum chips. This is a fascinating and rich topic, that seems never-ending in depth and detail
    • I'd really like to learn about noise (specifically gate-noise) processes on quantum chips
    • I'll (most likely) be doing my PhD project on simulating PT-symmetric Hamiltonians on a photonic quantum chip, which will probably also include elements of designing said chips (although I don't actually know anything about chip design)
  • (Quantum) Measurements
    • My Master's dissertation was on weak measurements. I'm extremely curious about these and my favourite thing from this so far has to be that even classical measurement results can be complex (at least, in certain situations). This might sound weird, but essentially, a measurement of position that is complex arises from a shift in momentum (this is actually what drove me to the above PhD topic)
  • Quantum Communications
    • Earlier in the year, I did a project on characterising a network for Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). Had a great time learning about how light travels through fibre as well as getting measurements of this
    • I've also written an essay about QKD using satellites. Again, I could spend ages trying to learn about this, but there was far, far too much for a single essay. This one was more like learning about light travelling many km through free space, as opposed to fibre
    • both of the above are really interesting and I wish I knew more about both and could spend a lot more time on this
  • Programming (sort of...)
    • I've learned (or at least, have some experience in) ML (a functional programming language). I absolutely love functional programming. Learning this taught me how to program a computer much better than any other language
    • I've also got some experience in C++, Java and Pascal/Delphi. My favourite of these is easily C++. I do not like Python one bit
    • Some programs that I've actually enjoyed writing are (although most of these were for University and so, mostly forgotten): simulation of solar system (I'm still working on improving this!), the knight's tour, drawing parts of the Mandelbrot set, the Ising model on a toroidal lattice and as above, programming hardware to take measurements to characterise a network for QKD (although this was also a bit stressful at times!)

Non-academic Interests

  • Music
    • I play piano, clarinet, sing bass and, my favourite, church organ
    • I've also learned a bit of a few other things, but it's been a while...
    • I've been in a few school and university orchestras, bands, choirs and musicals (although only playing the clarinet)
    • I'm into classical music and classical church music, although will listen to (almost) anything
  • Cooking
    • I love food. I love cooking. What more is there to say?
    • Answer: Tea and chocolate
  • Historical Martial Arts
    • It started off when I did fencing. I enjoyed it, but got a bit annoyed pretty quickly. Then I tried HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts)... This is as close as we can get to how they used to do swordfighting (it's tricky to put together and figure out how they used to do it for a couple of reasons)
    • since then, I've expanded and have done some Wing Chun and currently do Taichi and Kung Fu, which is extremely hard, but very rewarding :)
  • Reading
    • I read in practically every spare moment I can get. I'm particularly into fantasy and quite a bit into Sci-Fi. I'm also interested in the Valyrian language, created by David J Peterson for Game of Thrones
  • My favourite films are (at the minute) Pan's Labyrinth and Spirited Away. Favourite TV show is Game of Thrones. I also do a little bit of gaming on the side, when I couldn't be bothered to read
  • Born really from my time in undergrad as a chapel clerk, I have an interest in theology and religion. I don't know as much about it as I'd like, but I've had many interesting discussions with those who do
    • Little known fact to those who only know me online is that I find the service of Compline (particularly as we did it in undergrad) the most beautiful thing ever :)
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ You don't like Python? I'm not sure we can be friends anymore. $\endgroup$ – heather Aug 14 '17 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ thx! :) link to the venue/ chat room chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/71/the-h-bar ... question, what do you think about the major sources of noise in QM circuits? what are the most problematic? how will they be overcome? is there something intrinsic in noise that is not fully understood that could interfere with quantum computing and its conjectured scalability? $\endgroup$ – vzn Aug 15 '17 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ Mithrandir is Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. The number 24601 is Jean Valjean's prisoner ID at the beginning of Les Miserables. What's my prize? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 15 '17 at 10:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You get a free upvote on that comment! And a million imaginary points! :P $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Aug 16 '17 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Have you read Les Mis, or did you remember that from Javert's solo in the Boublil/ Schönberg musical? I'm curious because it's one of my favorite books, but I didn't recall the number at all, but when I said it out loud to myself I immediately recalled Javert's rather forceful enunciation of it in the musical. $\endgroup$ – Selene Routley Aug 18 '17 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @WetSavannaAnimalakaRodVance: I remembered it from the movie version with Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 18 '17 at 9:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos You didn't get any extra points because you didn't figure out his real name. OP said, "Finding my real name is left as an exercise for the reader :P" $\endgroup$ – ReinstateMonica3167040 Aug 19 '17 at 14:00

What role has religion/theology played in your studies?


How come you don't like python? Do you think that C++ has advantages for scientific computing in particular?


1) You said that : "In my third year of my undergrad, I did a literature review on superconducting quantum computers"

  • What were the physics and math courses you had taken so that you could be able enough for a literature review on the topic: "superconducting quantum computers"?

  • Was it a compulsory project, or you did it out of your own interest?

  • Did you have any advisor who helped you in the literature review? If so, how did you get in touch with them?

  • How did you get started with it? And what was the outcome (in brief) ?

2) During your undergraduate years did you study any (technical/science) topics beyond your syllabus for your own interest (as a hobby)? How did it help you later on in your career?

  • You say you're extremely curious about weak measurements. Can you explain to a quantum physicist who knows nothing about them why?

  • What applications do you have in mind for simulating PT-symmetric Hamiltonians, that is, why are you interested in simulating these Hamiltonians out of all possible Hamiltonians? Or is this more about a challenge for the chip than about the PT-symmetric Hamiltonians being interesting in themselves?

  • (I can understand if you don't want to answer this) You seem to be fond of religious music and you were a chapel clerk. So, are you religious, and if so, in what sense?

  • You read a lot of SciFi and Fantasy. I do so, too. Who's your favourite author, and why?


Is the IBM's quantum experience worthwhile? Do they really run your code on a real quantum computer and how long does it take to get the results? Is IBM's quantum experience more for fun or can you write code that gives you interesting results that you wouldn't have access to otherwise?


I have figured out your real name, and many other details you did not publish. The "The works of the Lord..." quote helped narrow down the university where you did your undergrad degree, I know you are doing a PhD in Bristol, and then things fell into place surprisingly quickly.

So you can confirm it while giving others a sporting chance at figuring it out themselves, I computed the md5 hash with

 echo -n "R..s W.......d" | md5


Of course, the dots were replaced with the actual characters in your name.

  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately @Heather beat you to it (in chat), although I'm half-impressed you actually went to any effort to find out! It is possible to figure it out from what I said in the question though :P If you ever find yourself in Bristol/the UK, I can get/make you some tea/coffee/hot chocolate. You might even be able to convince me to get you some alcohol, if you're into that... You are of course, right - good job! $\endgroup$ – Mithrandir24601 Aug 25 '17 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ Always game for a puzzle - thanks for the invitation! $\endgroup$ – Floris Aug 25 '17 at 23:12
  • As a user of IBM's quantum experience, how do you organize use of the program to effectively learn how quantum gates function? Or do you use it for academic findings?
  • From your lit review, what are your favorite resources for learning about superconducting qubits? Any current developments that are especially interesting to you?
  • Did you play in music groups throughout your MSc/PhD? Were you able to balance practice time with research work?

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