CS 156: Quantum Computing with No Prerequisites of Any Kind

Hampshire College, Amherst MA
Spring, 2001



Lee Spector, lspector@hampshire.edu
413-559-5352, ASH 201

Teaching Assistant

Ethan Goldman, ejgoldman@hampshire.edu

Meeting times

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-11:50 AM


Adele Simmons Hall (ASH) 126

Class web page


Class email list


cs156@list.hampshire.edu; subscribe by sending a message containing "subscribe cs156" to majordomo@list.hampshire.edu.


Quantum mechanics may provide the next major leap in computer power, allowing "quantum computers" to do things that no conventional computers will ever be able to do, regardless of their speeds. Some physicists question whether it will ever be practical to build large-scale quantum computers, but others are convinced that current obstacles to their construction will soon be overcome.

The new power of quantum computing emerges from bizarre features of the microscopic world, for example:

These are very odd claims from the perspective of classical computer science, but quantum computation seems to force this kind of language on us.

However one talks about quantum computation it is clear that it is something very different from classical computation and that new conceptual models may be necessary for us to make sense of it. In this course we will try to make sense of quantum computation starting from zero; there will be no assumed background in mathematics, physics, or computer science. The class will meet twice weekly for one hour and twenty minutes.


Schedule Outline

This will be a dynamic and highly interactive course. Because we will be covering the material at a much different level from that at which it is normally presented we will be using a diverse collection of text resources and we will adjust our readings and pace to the progress of the class. Nonetheless, we will try to stick to the following basic sequence of topics and readings:

  1. A brief, non-technical introduction to quantum computing (reading Grover's "Quantum Computing" article from The Sciences magazine)
  2. Quantum mechanics in more detail (reading parts of The Ghost in the Atom and The New World of Mr. Tompkins)
  3. Computing in more detail (reading The Pattern on the Stone)
  4. Quantum Computing in more detail (reading parts of Minds, Machines, and the Multiverse and working with the QGAME quantum computer simulator)

Expectations and Evaluation

Because of the dynamic, interactive nature of this course it is essential that you attend every class, stay on top of the readings, and participate actively in class discussions. Please speak up when you do not understand something! This is a "no prerequisites" course so you are not expected to understand everything at the beginning; on the other hand, if you don't speak up I will not be able to address your confusions and you may fall behind.

Your evaluation will be based on class participation, homework (assigned approximately once per week), and a final project. Late homework will not be accepted. You should always turn in something on time even if you are not able to do a completely satisfactory job. You should not expect to get any evaluation if you miss more than two homeworks, or if you miss more than three days of class, or if you are consistently more than five minutes late.

Additional Text Resources

Some of these are very challenging or require significant background knowledge. We will discuss the appropriateness of various additional readings in class, but as a rough guide the texts below are listed from "easier" to "harder" within each category.

Quantum Mechanics

Theoretical Computer Science

Quantum Computing

This page is maintained by Lee Spector and was last updated on January 30, 2001