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NEWS | June 10, 2021

NSWCDD Focuses on Quantum Computing with its First-Ever Hackathon

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

The Innovation Lab at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) hosted its first-ever hackathon in partnership with Microsoft June 2-4.

While the term hackathon may conjure up familiar depictions in media of a raucous semi-sporting event where audiences look on as hackers write line by line of code to break into a borderline impenetrable system, the event does not always quite look like that. This hackathon looked a lot like a room full of smart, creative people working together to develop rapid solutions to difficult problems.

Participants in NSWCDD’s first hackathon were challenged to utilize Microsoft’s quantum computing toolkit to generate solutions to assigned problems.

“The Navy is at the forefront of quantum [computing] efforts and Microsoft is very excited to collaborate with the Navy and excited to do this hackathon with the Innovation Lab here at Dahlgren,” said Microsoft Technology Strategist Dr. Monica DeZulueta. “The caliber of people participating here is phenomenal.”

The event kicked off with a “quantum computing bootcamp” led by Microsoft quantum computing professionals. Participants in the hackathon – along with approximately 25 more eager quantum students who joined the event via Microsoft Teams – were introduced to quantum computing basics and the Q# programming language.

Quantum computing is a fundamentally different mode of computing from what has traditionally been in use. While classical computing relies on bits of 1s and 0s, quantum computing “qbits” can exist as 1s and 0s simultaneously.

Although still an emerging field of application, quantum computing holds incredible implications for generating answers to previously intractable problems. From logistics solutions such as flight path optimization to more rapid, higher-fidelity modeling and simulation, quantum computing may play a key role in giving the warfighter the technological advantage over adversaries.

“The goal of this hackathon is to get the workforce thinking about quantum computing,” said Innovation Lab Director Dr. John Rigsby.

Innovation Lab Deputy Director Tamara Stuart added, “We’re already seeing how quantum communication and quantum sensors are enhancing our technologies and how we are thinking about these applications in the future. Everybody is expecting a quantum computing revolution to come so we are gearing up.”

Rigsby and Stuart said an enthusiastic response followed the call for hackathon participants. Each department across NSWCDD sent its best and brightest minds to compete and vie for the first place title in the base’s first-ever hackathon.

When the hacking began in earnest on day two of the event, the spirit of the anticipated “battle of the departments” shifted from competitive to collaborative as rival teams began to combine brainpower to attack the puzzling set of problems created by Microsoft quantum computing professionals.

Each team presented their solutions on the third and final day of the event. Along with the solutions to the problem set, participants were asked by the event’s judges to consider potential applications for quantum computing in their everyday work.

Following presentations, judges declared a three-way tie between Dahlgren’s Electromagnetic and Sensor System Department, Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department and the Integrated Combat Systems Department.

Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift highlighted the importance of events like this hackathon.

“The Innovation Lab is a place for our workforce to explore new technologies and solve complex naval challenges.  Our goal is to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of our talented workforce and provide the resources and environment necessary to discover, innovate and deliver cutting edge capabilities to the warfighter.  Events like this hackathon allow our scientists and engineers to learn new skills, collaborate to solve complex challenges, and prepare for future naval technology needs,” said Clift.

Stefano Coronado, a scientist from the Electromagnetic and Sensor System Department, said the in-person collaboration was exciting.

“This hackathon was a great experience for me,” said Coronado.

NSWCDD’s Innovation Lab leadership said this is the first of many similar events to come with hackathons hopefully occurring multiple times a year. Plans for the warfare center’s second hackathon are already in the works.