Stellenbosch University to Host National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences

We are pleased to announce a milestone achievement for both Stellenbosch University and the broader South African scientific community. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have accepted Stellenbosch University’s bid to host the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NITheCS).

The Consortium and Leadership

Led by Stellenbosch University, the consortium includes 25 esteemed South African universities and institutes organized into five distinct nodes. A distinguished cluster leader will guide each node. I am honoured to serve as the Interim Director of this transformative institute. This organizational structure ensures that various expertise is channelled into the institute, enhancing its reach and impact.

Mission and Vision

NITheCS aims to serve as a confluence for various scientific themes, encompassing Theoretical Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Statistics, Data Science, and several others. The Institute aspires to be at the forefront of addressing South Africa’s most immediate economic and social challenges through cutting-edge research.

A Catalyst for Change

By focusing on a multi-disciplinary approach, NITheCS is well-poised to contribute meaningfully to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the advancement of Artificial Intelligence. It is committed to fostering a vibrant scientific ecosystem through high-impact research, comprehensive training programmes, and nurturing undergraduate and postdoctoral talent.

We deeply thank Prof. Sibusiso Moyo and the consortium’s Deputy Vice-Chancellors for their unwavering support. Their concerted efforts have culminated in this significant achievement, which holds promise for the South African and global scientific landscape.

For the full press release and more details, please visit the official Stellenbosch University Press Release.

We look forward to your active participation and collaboration as we take bold steps towards a brighter, scientifically enriched future.

Kind regards,


Francesco Petruccione

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Hierarchical quantum circuit representations for neural architecture search

We are thrilled to announce that our latest paper, “Hierarchical Quantum Circuit Representations for Neural Architecture Search,” has just been published in the esteemed npj Quantum Information.

Our work introduces an exciting paradigm by borrowing techniques from the field of Neural Architecture Search (NAS). In classical machine learning, NAS has automated neural network architecture design and achieved state-of-the-art performance. We propose to extend these concepts into the quantum realm.

This paper presents a framework for representing quantum circuit architectures, allowing for design and architecture search. The magic of our approach lies in its modularity, adaptability, and ability to reveal repeating patterns, which mirror the common features in constructing neural and tensor networks.

At the heart of our study, we demonstrate the crucial role of circuit architecture in quantum machine learning. We create a family of Quantum Convolutional Neural Networks (QCNNs) and evaluate them on a music genre classification dataset, GTZAN. Our findings underscore the potential and versatility of QCNNs and quantum machine learning as a whole.

But we didn’t stop there. We went a step further by employing a genetic algorithm to perform Quantum Phase Recognition (QPR) as an example of architecture search with our representation. This approach demonstrates the effectiveness of our representation in practical applications, providing a promising starting point for further exploration in quantum machine learning architectures.

To make our work accessible to everyone and encourage further exploration, we have also developed and released an open-source Python package. This package facilitates dynamic circuit creation and circuit search space design, enabling others to experiment with NAS in quantum circuits.

We are proud to contribute to this growing field and are excited to see where these advancements will take us next. We invite you to read our full paper to delve into the details of our research: Hierarchical quantum circuit representations for neural architecture search.

Matt Lourens has written a notice blog post introducing the paper’s main results. You can find the corresponding software package on GitHub.

Stay tuned for more exciting updates from our group!

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Dr. Matthias Troyer (Technical Fellow and Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Quantum) Visited Quantum Research Group of Stellenbosch University

On Monday, July 17, 2023, the Quantum Stellenbosch group had the privilege of hosting Dr. Matthias Troyer, a Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Quantum. Dr. Troyer delivered an insightful presentation focusing on “Practical Quantum Advantage” and shared the latest progress in quantum computing by Microsoft.

Dr. Matthias Troyer is a quantum scientist at Microsoft Research. He is responsible for architecting Microsoft’s quantum computer and applications. He joined Microsoft in 2017, and his work is focused on accelerating scientific discovery globally through the benefits of a scaled, fault-tolerant quantum system while ensuring security and responsibility in its applications. Before joining Microsoft, he held a position as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo and later returned to ETH Zurich as a Computational Physics professor.

Achieving Practical Quantum Advantage

During his talk, “Disentangling Hype from Reality: Achieving Practical Quantum Advantage,” Dr. Matthias Troyer emphasized the need to discern the real impact of quantum computing amid various speculations. He highlighted that quantum computers excel at solving large computing problems on small data, particularly in chemistry, materials science, and related fields. These game-changing solutions hold immense potential for designing better batteries, new catalysts, and quantum materials, and addressing climate change. However, it is essential to consider superquadratic speedups to overcome the inherent slowdowns in quantum systems compared to classical computers. To achieve practical quantum advantage, Dr. Troyer outlined key requirements: fault-tolerant quantum computers scaling to millions of qubits, tools for developing quantum algorithms, and a focus on small data/big compute problems.

In recognition of his contributions to the field of quantum physics and computational physics, Dr. Troyer has received prestigious awards. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has been honored with the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics and the Rahman Prize for Computational Physics.

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Italian honour for Prof Petruccione

Prof. Francesco Petruccione was recently awarded the title of Cavaliere della Stella d’Italia, a prestigious Italian honour.. The accolade, presented by the Italian ambassador on Italy’s Republic Day, recognizes Petruccione’s significant global contributions to theoretical physics.

For the full press release, please follow this link.


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Participation of one of our group members in the NYUAD International Hackathon Quantum Computing (AbuDhabi)

One of the Ph.D. students of the Quantum Research Group of Stellenbosch University, Abbas (Omid) Hassasfar, recently attended the Eleventh Annual NYUAD International Hackathon for Social Good focusing on Quantum Computing held at the New York University Abu Dhabi in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirate.

The quantum hackathon took place on April 27th – April 30th, 2023, and in partnership with IBM, NYUAD Center for Quantum and Topological Systems, Technology Innovation Institute (TII), Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), qBraid, QWorld, NiEW, the MIT’s iQuHACK, and others.

This event was in person at the NYUAD campus over 3 days with nearly 200 students representing 56 universities from 24 countries. Professors around the world nominated their top students and Abbas was the only participant from a South African university in this event.

This exciting program was a collaboration aimed at bringing together students from different fields such as computer science, physics, and electrical engineering, and also technology experts, from different countries to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship to solve a real-world problem and focus on the useful advantage (supremacy) of Quantum computer.

During the three days, participants worked in 15 different teams to suggest a problem and solution related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) using a quantum computer and showing a quantum advantage. 

We are proud to report that Abbas Hassasfar (who participated as a student/mentor in this hackathon) and his team won third prize for their project “Focus on Good Health & Wellbeing” which helps medical professionals with the early detection of malignant tumors in patients using quantum machine learning.

The experience was extremely motivating, allowing the students to cooperate with other specialists in the area, learn about the most recent breakthroughs in quantum computing, and work on projects with real-world implications. They also made long-lasting friendships with other participants and had a great time visiting Abu Dhabi.

The student expresses his gratitude to NiTheCS and New York University Abu Dhabi for providing him with this opportunity and looks forward to attending similar events in the future.

The event wraps up with a prize-giving:


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Students participate in Quantinuum Quantum Hackathon at ICTP Trieste, Italy

The Stellenbosch University students, Dean Brand, Abbas (Omid) Hassasfar, Matt Lourens, Amy Rouillard, Donovan Slabbert, and Gerhard Woithe, recently attended the ICTP – Quantinuum Quantum Hackathon held at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. This event brought together 90 students from 23 different countries, with the aim of collaborating and creating novel solutions to real-world problems using quantum computing. The event was co-organized by ICTP and Quantinuum, a quantum computing company behind the open-source software TKET.

The first four days of the workshop comprised lectures and tutorials given by various experts on quantum computing, quantum error correction, quantum chemistry, and one of the highlights, ZX-calculus. During the final two days, participants were tasked with working in teams to create solutions for 18 projects supplied by Quantinuum and industry partners such as Merck, Eni, and BMW, covering areas such as chemistry, natural language processing, and error correction. We are proud to report that Abbas (Omid) Hassasfar and his team won second prize for their project titled “Quantum Krylov Method” which was related to the application of quantum computing for quantum chemistry. Event wraps up with a prize-giving.

The experience was incredibly enriching and inspiring, providing the students with an opportunity to collaborate with other experts in the field, learn about the latest developments in quantum computing, and work on projects with real-world impact. They also formed lasting connections with other participants and enjoyed exploring the beautiful city of Trieste. The students express their gratitude to NiTheCS and ICTP for providing them with this opportunity and look forward to attending similar events in the future.

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Quantum computing? How about kwantumberekening?

Last week, Gerhard Woithe, who just joined the Group as an MSc student, started a project to translate the Wikipedia page for “Quantum computing” to Afrikaans. The page (still in progress) can be found at

In the process of doing so, we have, however, found that in many cases, there are no existing Afrikaans terms for the (in many cases, relatively recent) jargon involved in the field of quantum computing. The first and most obvious untranslated term that jumped out at us was the term “qubit”, which, as everyone knows, is a portmanteau of the words “quantum” and “bit”. Well, the obvious analogue in Afrikaans is to chop and glue together the equivalent words “kwantum” and “bis”, to form the neologism “kwabis”, and so this is exactly what we did.

Stellenbosch University’s Department of Physics is essentially right across the road from the main offices of the Woordebook van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT), and so after a few emails and with the keen assistance of the people at the WAT, the term “kwabis” has now been added as a lemma to the online version of the dictionary, subject to official approval.

It was brought to our attention by Alet Cloete at the WAT that the word had actually been used at least once before in the current sense in a 2005 review article published in the “Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie” (see We think that the fact that the term “kwabis” has now been independently invented at least twice is an indication that it is the right word for the job.

Interestingly, the first documented use of the word itself is amazingly obscure – in a 1990 “poskantoorwoordeboek”, a post office dictionary, this term is given as the Afrikaans translation of the term “nibble” (see

This translation effort is an ongoing project, and as we move on to more articles and as new untranslated terms come up, we will be keeping in close contact with the people of the WAT in order to have them added to the dictionary! Interest in creating and maintaining scientific terminology in Afrikaans has dwindled over the past few years. So we hope to, via this project, play at least a small part in stimulating interest in the (multilingual) lexicography of quantum computing. Additionally, we hope that this project perhaps inspires more people to be creative with language and translate technical articles into their home languages, thereby making specialised fields more easily accessible to people all over the world.

Please contact us if you are interested in making a contribution or if you have any suggestions for us.


The “kwabis”entry in the Woordebook van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT).

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Four new preprints

What a day: 4 preprints in the arXiv!

Congratulations to Shivani Pillay, Ian David, Rowan Pellow-Jarman and Shane McFarthing for submitting their first preprints to the arXiv:

Hybrid Genetic Optimisation for Quantum Feature Map Design R Pellow-Jarman, A Pillay, I Sinayskiy, F Petruccione

Digital Simulation of Single Qubit Markovian Open Quantum Systems: A Tutorial , IJ David, I Sinayskiy, F Petruccione

A Multi-Class SWAP-Test Classifier, SM Pillay, I Sinayskiy, E Jembere, F Petruccione

Classical Ensembles of Single-Qubit Quantum Variational Circuits for Classification, S McFarthing, A Pillay, I Sinayskiy, F Petruccione



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Quantum @SUN welcomes Prof Uwe Jaekel

Prof Uwe Jaekel (Hochshule Koblenz, University of Applied Sciences) is visiting Stellenbosch University from 31 January to 5 February 2023.

Prof Jaekel is one of the speakers at the 2023 CHPC-NITheCS Summer School on Theoretical and Computational Sciences.

On Friday, 3 February, he will deliver a Colloquium on the topic ‘Solving nonlinear classification problems with a complex valued almost linear perceptron”.

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Quantum Unconference

It was great to have some of my UKZN students visiting in Stellenbosch and join the local team.

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