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Faculty Discuss Fall Semester ‘Hybrid’ Classes, Propose Quantum Science and Engineering Program

Two professors advocated for Harvard to create a graduate program in Quantum Science and Engineering at Tuesday's monthly Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting.
Two professors advocated for Harvard to create a graduate program in Quantum Science and Engineering at Tuesday's monthly Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences professor Evelyn L. Hu and Physics professor John M. Doyle moved for the establishment of a new graduate program in Quantum Science and Engineering during a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tuesday.

The program — which would bridge several existing departments and areas in FAS and SEAS, including Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science — would train students in speaking “a common language” relevant to practical applications of the study of subatomic particle behavior, Doyle said in an interview.

Hu said in an interview that the emergence of a field in quantum science bears resemblance to the initial days of computer science, when “computer science slowly emerged from math.”

“There was a period where there were no computers. Imagine having to take all your CS courses in the math department,” Hu said. “The fundamentals, the basics, the core courses that we think students need to have, don’t exist in any existing tracks or concentrations.”

Physics professor Mikhail D. Lukin — a co-director of Harvard’s existing Quantum Science and Engineering Initiative alongside Hu and Doyle — said in an interview Harvard is “a pioneer in really moving all the way towards an integrated, certified Ph.D. program.”

Lukin said the “time was right” for the introduction of the new graduate program, describing how the quantum science field will “start playing a bigger and bigger role” in real-world applications, such as computational and communication devices.

“Moore’s Law basically says that as the computational power increases, the size of the transistor decreases exponentially with time. This is what has driven the kind of progress in information technology we have seen over the last several decades,” Lukin said. “It is, by now, very clear that Moore’s Law is really coming to the end.”

During the faculty meeting, Doyle highlighted several FAS faculty conducting research into quantum science, including Lukin — whose lab is researching devices to improve quantum communication and move the field closer to developing a quantum internet.

Hu said that while research into quantum science and engineering has only begun to take root at Harvard, she and her colleagues envision the graduate degree program will foster a “lasting legacy beyond what we do as individuals or in groups.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay addressed planning for the fall semester as Harvard nears the one-year anniversary of its shift to remote learning due to the coronavirus crisis. She said University administrators are preparing to tentatively teach large courses in a hybrid format during the fall semester “to regain [Harvard’s] campus-based identity.”

“Planning is underway for the fall, and our overriding goal remains charting a path to a full return for our students, faculty, and staff,” Gay said. “The [Office of Undergraduate Education] has been leading efforts to pilot modes of hybrid learning.”

In December, Gay announced the FAS would pilot some in-person academic experiences during the spring semester. Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda J. Claybaugh shared Tuesday that 56 faculty members volunteered for the trial, which will allow the FAS to preview teaching lectures in a hybrid format — in addition to holding lab sections and studio art and performance courses in-person with proper precautions.

“We’re preparing for all possibilities this fall, among them the possibility that we might have to teach some of our larger classes in hybrid form — that is, with some students in-person and some remote — and also that we might need to teach our small courses in a socially-distanced way,” Claybaugh said.

“We expect to learn a great deal from these experiments, and we’ll use what we learn to guide our planning for the fall,” Claybaugh added.

The program will go before the faculty for a vote of approval during their next meeting on April 6.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at

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