Alum Introduces Quantum to Derryfield

Alum Introduces Quantum to Derryfield

By Elaine Loft, Staff Writer

Derryfield alumna Del Pierson ʼ16 was invited by physics teacher Jeff Cousineau to attend and teach an AT (Advanced Topics) physics class in the new year. Pierson graduated from Colby College with a degree in physics, and is a sales engineer and product line engineer at XMA Corporation. Del also writes a blog, where she has covered such topics as “High Frequency Connectors” and “Non-Destructive Testing-The Gift of Couplers.” XMA is a Manchester company that manufactures passive microwave components for military, aerospace, test, measurement, and commercial markets.

Pierson’s presentation in the January 5 class was on quantum computing. She kicked off with a video explainer of quantum, and then delved into why quantum is important, and what is needed to help it succeed. A discussion of classical versus modern mechanics delineated the difference between the two courses of study. The overarching goals of quantum are to solve classical problems more quickly, and to find solutions to previously unsolved problems. 

The AT students were asked what they loved about physics, or why they had chosen to take the class. One student, who had already taken advanced classes in biology and chemistry, noted that “interdisciplinary study is important,” and she felt it was important to add an advanced physics course to her schedule. Several said they hoped to study architecture in college, and AT physics would give them further background in mechanics. One student observed that physics “explains the world,” and gave them a broader understanding of “how things operate.”

As a follow up to Pierson’s presentation, the AT students were challenged by Cousineau to design homework assignments for a unit on quantum computing. Although the current AT physics curriculum does not delve into quantum mechanics, it will be woven into the course of study in a future year. 

Pierson, who regularly attends STEAM committee meetings, had this to say about her teaching experience in the AT physics course.

“Returning to Derryfield was very exciting. The students definitely reignited my passion for quantum.  Their questions reminded me of the remaining unknowns in the industry, and my passion for contributing to those discoveries.  I was also reminded of the excitement of academia.  To answer their questions and create a quantum-enabled world, we need to keep the business-science symbiotic relationship in mind.  Derryfield’s liberal arts approach is a great way to emphasize this relationship and prepare students for a quantum world.” 

The Derryfield Advanced Topics (AT) program represents the pinnacle of skill development in each of the core academic disciplines. When the School stepped away from the AP program in the 2019-2020 school year, this choice represented the culmination of a multi-year process to redesign the Academic Program to reflect the Portrait of a Derryfield Graduate, and the real world skills those graduates need in each discipline. Designed around college-level work and the mastery of key skills and concepts unique to each discipline, all AT courses include a “Gold Standard Project” which involves an authentic question, deep research, and a real, public product, along with providing the most rigorous academic experience offered at Derryfield.

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