Joseph Emerson

Faculty, Associate Professor
Joseph Emerson

Joseph Emerson has been a faculty member at the Institute of Quantum Computing and the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Waterloo since 2005. He is a world-leading authority on the characterization of quantum systems. His pioneering work on practical error diagnostic methods for quantum computers led to the development of the current global standard for characterizing the performance of quantum gates, a protocol now known as “randomized benchmarking”. More recently Emerson's work has led to a method known as “cycle benchmarking” to assess the quality of implementation of large-scale quantum circuits and validate the correctness of the output under near-term, error-prone quantum computations. In 2017 he founded the quantum computing software start-up Quantum Benchmark Inc.

Emerson has made significant contributions to a theoretical framework for identifying quantum randomization classes, known as “unitary t-designs”, which has been applied in a wide-range of settings, ranging from the construction of randomized benchmarking protocols to analyzing the physics behind the black hole information paradox. Through a series of ground-breaking papers, Emerson's work more recently led to novel insights, based on leveraging criteria for negative quasi-probability and quantum contextuality, that help clarify the conceptual nature of quantum speed-up and quantify new experimental boundaries for achieving genuine advantages with quantum computation. However, like everyone else, he still does not understand why quantum theory is so weird.

Emerson obtained his BSc in physics at McGill University in 1993, followed by a Master's (1995) degree in experimental nuclear physics from Simon Fraser University (SFU). The focus of his PhD degree in theoretical physics, also from SFU, was quantum-classical correspondence for chaotic dynamical systems. After his PhD Joseph held postdoctoral positions at Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) and then the Perimeter Institute, where he studied the interface of randomness, decoherence, and quantum chaos, and developed techniques for understanding and overcoming the challenges confronting the practical implementation of quantum information algorithms.

Current projects

  • Theory and methods for characterizing quantum systems, in particular methods for the diagnosis and suppression of errors and validation of circuit performance in small-scale and large-scale quantum computers.
  • Foundations of quantum theory and the power of quantum information, including, in particular understanding how contextuality and negativity of quasi-probability representations can characterize the resources required for quantum computing.

Academic affiliations

  • Faculty Member, Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), University of Waterloo
  • Fellow, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)
  • Faculty Member, Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute
  • Affiliate Member, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Awards & Honours

  • Early Researcher Award from Ontario Government (2008-2013)
  • Scholar, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (2008-2013)
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postdoctoral Fellowship (2003-2005)
  • SFU Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching Award (1999)
  • Simon Fraser University Graduate Fellowship x 4 (1996-2000)

Major Positions:

Title Location When
Associate Professor Department of Applied Mathematics and the Institute for Quantum Computing, the University of Waterloo 2010-Present
Assistant Professor Department of Applied Mathematics and the Institute for Quantum Computing, the University of Waterloo 2005-2010
Visiting Professor Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2008
Postdoctoral Fellow Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics 2003-2005
Postdoctoral Fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 2001-2003
PhD Student and Research Assistant Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University 1995-2001
Masters Student and Research Assistant TRIUMF Laboratory, Vancouver, BC and DESY Research Laboratory, Hamburg, Germany 1993-1995