Carl Miller '97: Quantum Information
by Sophie Hansen '24 for Silver Quest
Quantum physicist and mathematician Carl Miller (Class of ‘97) lives a life to which many magnet students aspire. He is a mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland.
When at Blair, Miller centered his focus mainly on mathematics, enrolling in advanced math courses and participating in a multitude of extracurricular math competitions. He continued on a “math trajectory” during most of his college career at Duke University and his graduate studies at UC Berkeley. Miller notes that his magnet background had a strong influence on his studies in college and graduate school. Early encouragement to perform at an exceptional level set the stage for him to tackle difficult subjects later on. After his graduate studies, Miller began to independently explore computer science and physics when he was a postdoc at the University of Michigan.
Miller’s current research focuses on cybersecurity and information security, topics that require him to draw heavily on the field of quantum physics. Miller noted that if there was a class at Blair that he could go back and take again, it would definitely be physics. “In what I currently do, I use a lot of physics, and I kind of learned it as I went, and I think that a lot of the stuff that was taught in the physics class in the magnet was valuable,” he said.
One of Miller’s recently completed research projects dealt with the idea of quantum coin flipping. This involves considering a scenario in which two parties, who do not see one another and only communicate through an information channel, seek to flip a coin fairly. Neither party trusts the other but wants to feel that the coin flip was fair. Miller explored the intriguing mathematical aspects of this problem and under what circumstances it was possible or not to have an equitable coin flip.
When asked what piece of advice he would offer to current Blair students, Miller remarked that they should consider broadening their focus to multiple subject areas. Miller recalled,“ I think when I was a student I had very specific ideas of what I wanted to do, which was mainly math, music, and computer science, and I was kind of laser-focused on those things. But my advice to younger students would be to broaden the focus because you never know what’s going to come up later.”
Miller looks back fondly on the Blair Magnet Program, crediting it with accelerating his studies of mathematics. The program offered him the opportunity to take numerous advanced math courses that aren’t typically offered at the high school level. Additionally, he was able to participate in math competitions that further propelled him toward a career in the field of mathematics. Miller explained, “I guess you could say I always knew what I thought I wanted to do, which was mathematics, and what I would say that the Magnet did for me on that front was really accelerated me in that direction.”
When asked what he considers the most memorable part of the Blair Magnet Program, Miller replied that it would probably be Magnet Arts Night (now STEM Arts Night). Even though as a magnet student he had largely focused on math, science, and computer science, nevertheless he also deeply appreciated the intersection between STEM and the arts. Miller himself even participated in the event by playing the piano. Regarding Magnet Arts Night, Miller fondly recalls, “I just remember how there was just so much creativity, and that there were so many surprises.”
Miller’s enthusiasm for Magnet Arts Night again underscores his advice that Blair magnet students would benefit significantly from taking courses spanning a wide variety of topics. Miller emphasizes the fact that there are discernable commonalities between seemingly different subjects, and insightfully notes, “I think maybe searching out those commonalities may be part of students figuring out for themselves what they personally value.”
For Blair Magnet students interested in quantum physics/computation, Miller recommends the book Quantum Computation and Quantum Information by Michael A. Nielsen and Isaac L. Chuang. He also advises looking into college courses at UMD on quantum computing.