A new video game designed to teach quantum computing to kids aged 11 and older launched this fall. The game, Quantum Navigator, is designed to provide a foundation, offering an introduction to key terms and concepts, such as superposition, so that kids can develop a basic understanding of the guiding principles of this emerging technology.

“The game introduces topics in quantum science that users have to learn in order to solve problems and advance through the levels,” said Ella Meyer, who recently took on the role of Project Manager, Quantum Computing Outreach and Education at the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (Blusson QMI) and UBC Geering Up. “We believe video games are an underrated tool for learning, and an accessible way to teach quantum computing to kids.”

One of the goals of Quantum Navigator, and the larger effort behind introducing quantum computing themes to children and young adults, is to “hide” the education.

Quantum Navigator makes learning complex topics fun

“Think of it a bit like making a smoothie for kids,” said Meyer. “You want it to include vegetables, but don’t want it to taste like vegetables. It’s the same with making an educational videogame: we’re masking the challenging parts, and packaging an idea that can seem a bit cold or inaccessible to the average person in something fun. Engaging with tough concepts in a game makes the lessons more palatable; it’s essential that we make learning about quantum computing fun.”

“Video games can help us engage with learning material,” said Dr. Amori Mikami, Professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. “Video games are a great way to introduce educational content or learn new skills.”

“In addition, many video games have reinforcements built into them, where after we do certain tasks or achieve milestones we are rewarded with points, stars, or some other method of tracking our achievements; this can help us stay motivated,” said Mikami, who was not involved in the project but who conducts research on learning and forming social relationships in digital spaces.

The idea for the game came from Haris Amiri, who previously held the role of Project Manager with this initiative. Amiri led the K-12 quantum computing program in its inception, leading the development of STEM and quantum education curriculum and software, workshops and high school courses used by thousands of Canadian youth and educators.

“For a video game to be successful, the players must be constantly challenged but only up to their skill levels. As they advance, they must pick up new skills and tools that they can use to take on greater challenges,” said Amiri. “You can use a similar model in education. Equip youth with the fundamentals and as you help them ‘upgrade’ their toolkit through experiential learning, they are better adapted to taking on more challenges.”

Diversifying the quantum computing talent pool

At present, most of those who work in the quantum computing space are in research and development, working in academic or technical roles that require a background in computer engineering, physics, or other highly specialized STEM fields.

To expand the scope of who has access to quantum computing, and to develop the future of quantum computing, the team behind Quantum Navigator has worked to ensure that people of diverse skill-sets and interests can engage with the game and learn its core lessons: the future of quantum tech will need artists, writers, user-experience developers, and expertise from the liberal and creative arts, the same way that classical computing and gaming does today.

“It’s critical that we introduce quantum computing education to those with a variety of interests,” said Meyer. “For quantum computing to truly advance, the field of experts involved needs to be very interdisciplinary; the field will only thrive with diverse perspectives to drive the technology and its related applications forward.”

Quantum Navigator was developed by UBC Geering Up and Quantum BC’s Diversifying Talent in Quantum Computing effort, with Lukas Chrostowski, Professor in UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering serving as a champion for the initiative. The game is part of a bundle of quantum computing educational tools, including the soon-to-be-launched Quantum Arcade and Quantum Hub, that are designed to make quantum computing concepts accessible to a wide range of potential users.