QHack—the quantum machine learning hackathon

Josh Izaac

Part hackathon, part fan expo, part scientific conference, QHack offered a new kind of experience in the quantum space. Like all the best events, it had a teaser trailer, a vintage poster, its own theme music (imagine Daft Punk remixed the Knight Rider intro music), and a top-notch swag game.

Participants from more than 85 countries tested their skills against one another to claim the top spots on the leaderboard. At stake was more than bragging rights: top teams could unlock a share of $100k in credits for quantum computing platforms, early access to unreleased services, and internships at a world-famous scientific lab.

Organized by Xanadu and sponsored by major players in the quantum space like AWS, Sandbox@Alphabet, CERN Quantum Technology Initiative, IBM Quantum, Rigetti, and Google, QHack 2021 is Xanadu’s second QHack event (after QHack 2019, this time taking place entirely online.

QHack at a glance

  • 35 hours of live streams with over 13,500 views
  • 2650+ registered participants
  • 400+ active teams
  • Participants from 85+ countries
  • 100+ swag packs shipped all over the world

QHack live streams

The event kicked off with three jam-packed days of quantum machine learning talks featuring an amazing line-up of guest speakers from across the quantum industry (see bottom of this post for links to the talks). As the synthwave theme should make immediately clear, QHack isn’t your usual academic event.

Our guest speakers treated us to their latest scientific and technical insights, then sat down with our hosts for more in-depth personal interviews. We heard stories about their journeys through academia and industry, meeting scientific celebrities, Dungeons & Dragons, how to use social media, mountain biking adventures, and karaoke catastrophes. Viewers were also treated to a quantum musical composition and a PennyLane-themed standup comedy act. With its first-ever stream, QHack ranked 2nd for total viewers in the Science and Technology Category on Twitch.

Fun fact: immediately after watching the QHack live streams, the French electronic music group Daft Punk famously called it quits, knowing it was time to pass on the torch to a new generation of creators. [*citation needed*]

QML Challenges

Running in parallel to the QHack live streams were the QML Challenges. Participating teams raced to solve 12 different quantum machine learning programming challenges across four categories: circuits, optimization, gradients, and variational quantum eigensolvers (VQE). Teams that placed in the top 80 would unlock credits that they could use for accessing quantum hardware and simulators on Amazon Braket. In a surprise bonus announcement, the top 50 teams were also granted first-ever alpha access to Sandbox’s quantum simulator Floq.

The competition was intense! There were 400 active teams tackling the challenges, and by the end of QHack, 57 teams had completed every single problem, achieving a perfect score.

QHack Top Ten Leaderboard

QHack Open Hackathon

Finally, the event was capped off with a week-long hackathon. Having levelled up their skills on the QML Challenges, teams put themselves to a new test. To succeed in this open-ended hackathon, teams had to combine a great idea with swift execution and a polished pitch. At the mid-week point, the teams with the most promising projects could also unlock an extra Power Up: $4000 in AWS credits to execute their hackathon ideas directly on quantum hardware. The top team at the end of the event could claim prestigious summer internships at CERN.

The Open Hackathon had a lot of interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining, and even off-the-wall project submissions (38 in total). Teams hacked a Quantum Chess Engine, tackled high-energy physics problems with QML, explored variational language models, and composed “Qountry” songs. They traversed barren plateaus, generated data with Quantum GANs, extended current QML models with new features, and composed quantum musical scores. You can check out all of the submissions at the QHack 2021 GitHub repo. Thanks to all teams for participating!

And the winners are…

With so many hackathon projects, it was a challenge to choose a final winner. But three teams rose above the rest to claim a spot on the podium:

Third place:

Many body system: Quantum Optimal Subarchitecture Search (QOSE)

  • Aroosa Ijaz, University of Waterloo & Vector Institute
  • Jelena Mackeprang, University of Stuttgart
  • Kathleen E. Hamilton, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Roeland Wiersema, University of Waterloo & Vector Institute
  • Yash Chitgopekar, University of California, Santa Barbara

Second place:

Entangled_Nets: Event Classification with Layer-wise Learning for Data Re-uploading Classifier in High Energy Physics

First place:

Notorious FUB: Trainable Quantum Embedding Kernels with PennyLane

Congratulations to the top teams!

Thanks again to both our sponsors and our participants for making QHack 2021 such a success and helping it become a signature event in the quantum space. See you at the next QHack!

QHack 2021 talks:

  • Murphy Niu (Google): Machine Learning at Google Quantum
Josh Izaac

Josh Izaac

Josh is a theoretical physicist, software tinkerer, and occasional baker. At Xanadu, he contributes to the development and growth of Xanadu’s open-source quantum software products.

Tags: qhack, aws, pennylane, floq
Last modified: 10:03, 30 Mar 2021