Engineering Professor Max Wong’s gift funds quantum tech research

headshot of smiling Max Wong, wearing a collared shirt and a pageboy cap

A $225,000 gift in 2019 from Max Wong, professor emeritus in electrical and computer engineering, fostered the creation of a quantum technology research group, which explores creative ways to harness quantum entanglement in the design of potential radar and communication systems. 

For Max Wong, it’s always been about working together on the quest for wider and deeper knowledge.

In 2019, the professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering established the Margaret Ellen & Kon Max Wong Quantum Technology Research Fund to help build McMaster’s expertise in the field.

The gift of $225,000 to date has fostered the creation of a quantum technology research group, which has supported and brought together graduate students with faculty members and post-docs.

The collaboration is exploring creative ways to harness the intriguing physical property of quantum entanglement in the design of potential future radar and communication systems.

“The Faculty of Engineering is grateful for support that furthers our research excellence. It’s also special when a donor is an esteemed member of our Fireball Family,” said Heather Sheardown, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

“Thank you, Max Wong, for supporting our students and for your ongoing legacy and impact.”

More than the sum of its parts

Its story stretches back 25 years: Wong recalls working with his colleagues at McMaster on emerging mathematical optimization techniques in the design of the signal processing and communication systems of today.

That work attracted worldwide interest and significantly enhanced the department’s reputation as a source of creative approaches to addressing key problems in these fields.

“As they say, the whole is larger than the sum of the parts,” Wong explained. “Our research activities grew very quickly, and our research results were the envy of other universities.”

In creating the research fund, Wong fostered that same synergistic energy that inspired him.

“It’s certainly very satisfying that we are forming a new group and our research effort has been dedicated to such a topic, each of us contributing our partial knowledge to benefit the others,” he said.

The fund was made in memory of the professor’s mother, Sin Hung Yung-Wong, and sister, Tak Lun Wong, who were both dedicated educators.

Wong explained how his mother, a principal, raised him and his sister, a dedicated music director in a Hong Kong high school, with willingness to learn as widely as possible; art, music, literature and poetry went alongside a passion for science.

Wong is a leader in signal processing and communication theory, with over 250 papers published in this area, as well as a pianist and painter.

“My mother put a lot of emphasis on our main education, but she also stressed the importance of acquiring knowledge in other fields. Under her nurturing, I think I gained a much wider outlook on humanity.”

“My sister, too, was a true believer of general education,” he said. “She encouraged students to read widely on literature and poetry so that they could cultivate and enrich their music appreciation and performance.”

It’s this breadth of information, Wong said, that allows us to expand our knowledge boundaries. That’s why collaboration in the research group is so important.

“Quantum technology necessitates the knowledge of physics and mathematics . . . we have to be knowledgeable in these other fields to come up with creative thinking of our own.”

Sharing knowledge and fostering dynamic debate

Wong joined the department at McMaster in 1981 and fulfilled the role of department chair several times, including 1986–1987, 1988–1994, and 2003–2008. He was awarded the McMaster Faculty of Engineering Life-Time Research Achievement Award in 2011.

Wong is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the United Kingdom’s Institution of Electrical Engineers, Royal Statistical Society and Institute of Physics.

Wong continues to be in awe of the entanglement phenomenon quantum technology presents; the very tight relationship between particles can be used as extra, richer information in our communication and radar systems.

“After these three years of studying, I have an appreciation for this sort of technology. Therefore, I think we’ve picked a very worthwhile topic because it suddenly produces a lot of room for further research and development in terms of information technology.”

Venkata Pydimarri, who recently received his PhD from the school of computations science and engineering, is the first student to graduate with support from this fund. He noted that it was a great privilege.

“The funding arrived during a very crucial time period. I was in the middle of submitting my thesis and at the point when I had to work hard to overcome an important problem,” he said.

Pydimarri explained how presenting his results in this group helped improve his understanding and gave him the opportunity to interact with people who excelled in quantum technology – an area that’s not commonly tackled in Canada.

Pydimarri’s own research focused on the application of stochastic calculus methods and on quantum spin dynamics.

“The future is related to quantum computing . . . This funding provided a very good opportunity for me to complete my research,” he said. “I really appreciate Kon Max Wong, and my supervisor Timothy Field, for providing this kind of funding at the right time.”

Tim Davidson, outgoing chair of the department, was part of the original research group with Wong that inspired the creation of this fund. Davidson described how the fund enriches the department.

“By bringing together researchers with expertise on topics ranging from the fundamentals of quantum mechanics to the design of radar and communication systems, and by ‘entangling’ their insights with the fresh perspectives of graduate students, the fund has added a new and dynamic research thrust to the department’s research portfolio,” he said.

“The spirit of collaboration within the group, along with the vigour of their intellectual debates, is enabling them to create and nurture ideas that have the potential to dramatically influence future developments.”

Sharing knowledge, Wong said, will better the future of electrical engineering at McMaster.

“Our creative knowledge is our own but never ours alone. It should be shared to further develop ideas and to create new knowledge for serving the world. That was my goal of setting up this quantum technology group.”

Related Stories