As an electrical engineering student in Belgium, Jacques Van Damme was not required to take advanced physics or quantum computing classes.

“But I took one elective course in quantum mechanics, with some applications to electronic devices,” he says. “That course really blew my mind. I was very eager to go more into quantum.”

This academic year, Van Damme finally got his chance. Along with eight other students, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s inaugural Master of Science in Physics – Quantum Computing (MSPQC), the first program of its kind in the U.S. Most of the students will complete their degrees in August 2020, and they will be primed to enter the rapidly growing field of quantum computing

Quantum computing master’s student Jacque Van Damme, in the MSPQC office, is solving a problem from the Intro to Quantum Computing course.

The new program grew out of a recognized workforce need, says Bob Joynt, professor of physics at UW–Madison and director of the MSPQC program.

“We started graduating PhDs in the area of quantum computing maybe 10 to 15 years ago and they did fine, they found jobs,” Joynt says. “But then a few years ago, we started noticing that these graduates were in much more demand than our other graduates. Sometimes there were bidding wars, and that had never really happened before.”

That fierce competition for experts stems from quantum computers’ potential to vastly outperform classical computers in key areas such as encryption and cybersecurity. Quantum computers achieve these feats by harnessing the unintuitive laws of quantum mechanics to perform complex operations that regular computers cannot handle.

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