Quantum anything is not easy to visualize. With stories like these, I rely heavily on the experts: the writers and editors. This feature on quantum error correction is about the next step toward making a fully functional quantum computer.
The story isn’t a profile on a person or company, and the quantum computers that can attempt error correction look like microchips that most people have seen before, so photography wasn’t going to do the trick. For the opening illustration, I imagined a conceptual illustration of a dazzling, futuristic sea of qubits.
Thankfully, our physics writer Adrian Cho is adept at explaining and sketching out these complex concepts. Adrian’s sketch showed a row of qubits with varying wavelengths, representing the quantum connection called entanglement. The sketch, coupled with a helpful Slack conversation, gave me a blueprint for this illustration.
Andy Gilmore is an illustrator who I’ve admired for his hypnotic geometric creations. His black hole illustration caught my eye when I was researching illustrators for the 2019 Breakthrough of the Year. His mathematical and kaleidoscopic style was perfect for a story on quantum error correction.
Andy came back with several sketches, both in 2D and 3D. We ended up choosing the 3D color version, but added multiple rows of qubits receding into the distance, to show the grid of qubits that will be needed to make the quantum computer stable.
Simultaneously, our Senior Scientific Illustrator Chris Bickel was working with Adrian on the explanatory graphics.
Chris’s first draft had all the graphics grouped into a spread. Without one central element to anchor the page, it was a bit overwhelming and difficult to parse. We decided it was better to break them up into smaller, more easily digestible pieces. We removed the heavy black background to improve legibility and limit any printing issues. Once Andy and I settled on a palette, I worked with Chris to change the colors in his qubits to match those in the opening illustration.
With this feature, the challenge was to figure out how best to engage readers through conceptual illustration, explanatory graphics, and a cohesive design. Below is the final product.
Marcy Atarod is the Design Managing Editor at Science.