New Technological Horizons in Electrical Engineering


Dr. Donghai Zhu leading the SHINE2018 Cohort


Front (L-R) Anouk and Maylin, Back (L-R) Iris and Erica

The SHINE students challenged themselves last Friday in sessions devoted to the field of electrical engineering, including a tour of USC’s cleanroom and a workshop on quantum computing. 

In the morning, the cohort split up and took turns touring the USC Keck Photonics Cleanroom. Led by lab manager Dr. Donghai Zhu, the SHINE students learned why cleanrooms are crucial to technology development. Along with yellow lighting that prevents unwanted exposure to shorter wavelengths of light that might damage sensitive materials, a cleanroom is designed to maintain an environment with extremely low levels of airborne particulates. This controlled environment allows for the production of microprocessors necessary in specialized industrial manufacturing and scientific research.  

While USC’s currently operating cleanroom is quite large—over 4,000 square feet—the new John O’Brien Nanofabrication Laboratory in the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience will be twice as large. Together, these cleanrooms will keep USC at the forefront of engineering technology for years to come. 

After Dr. Zhu’s tour, the SHINE students plunged deeper into the world of electrical engineering through an introduction to quantum computing with the help of Ph.D. student and former SHINE mentor, Haimeng Zhang.  


The Winning Team


Front- SHINE student Luis, Back-SHINE student Ashley

Haimeng first gave a brief history of computing to explain why researchers are turning to quantum computing to deal with society’s evolving computational needs. Thanks to advances in nanofabrication technology since the 1970s, computer processors have become smaller and smaller. Computers that formerly took up whole rooms can now fit into the palm of a hand. However, the computing power we have grown accustomed to is reaching its limit, and there are still sets of problems that are practically impossible for our computers to solve.  

Therefore, scientists are utilizing their knowledge of quantum mechanics in an attempt to develop a new kind of computer that can potentially solve specific problems much more efficiently and keep up with our evolving technological needs. Industry has followed suit as well, opening its technology up to anyone eager to explore and innovate.  

Using IBM’s “Q Experience” platform, Haimeng designed a workshop challenge for the SHINE cohort. In teams, the SHINE students worked together to test the theory of superposition and then extrapolate from IBM’s measurements to see if quantum theory could be supported by the measured data.  

This was a very challenging exercise, but Haimeng reassured the cohort with words from Neils Bohr, who said that if you’re not confused by quantum mechanics, then you haven’t really understood it. 

At the end of the challenge, Haimeng awarded points to any team brave enough to share their results and try to explain quantum computing to the rest of the cohort. The winning team, perhaps unsurprisingly, was made up largely of SHINE students participating in electrical engineering research this summer. They will celebrate their well-earned victory at an upcoming coffee date.  


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Published on July 26th, 2018

Last updated on April 6th, 2021