Mingo County Native Taking Huge Leaps in Quantum Computing and Networking

Dec 23, 2015

Rod Van Meter strolls the halls at Duke University in Durham, N.C., knowing his very satisfying year here as a visiting professor on Fellowship is wrapping up.

Soon he’ll be returning to Keio University in Japan, and Shonan Fujisawa campus, about an hour southwest of Tokyo near the coast.

Rod Van Meter of Mingo County is an architect of the computer networking of the future.
Credit Jean Snedegar

Forty-nine year old Van Meter of Williamson, WV is one of just a few thousand scientists and engineers in the world working on the future of Information Technology – quantum computers and networks. 

The very first book in the world on quantum networking, published in 2014, was written by Rod Van Meter.  

This Mingo County native is one of 4 national leaders profiled in West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inspiring West Virginians radio special, airing Monday, Dec. 28 at 8pm.

Van Meter explains quantum computing is using individual atoms, electrons, and photons to calculate the results of certain functions that we can’t figure out how to calculate efficiently using the regular computers that are in cell phones, laptops, desktops, or what we call classical computers.

“So what we would like to achieve with quantum computing is to solve certain kinds of problems faster than classical computers, and by faster what we mean in this case is what we would like them to be exponentially faster,” said Van Meter.

Once they are built, quantum computers could be a thousand times faster, or a million times faster, or even a trillion times faster than computers are today.

According to Van Meter, quantum computing will be a dramatic paradigm shift that will open up new opportunities, new fields and applications that no one has yet even imagined.  And in other cases, it will simply make solving big problems faster.

“Or it might help us understand the way molecules behave inside living cells, and that’s very exciting and has the potential to advance science a lot,” he added. 

The commercial availability of quantum computers is still a decade away – and it’s going to take about a $1billion in investment.

“Because there are a lot of engineering problems that have to be solved that are difficult to solve in a small-scale research environment,” Van Meter explains. “When is somebody like Google or Intel going to come along and sink $1 billion into solving a lot of these problems?”

“They’ll do it when they see that the core technology has gotten there, and of course when they see that there will be a business advantage for them to actually do this,” he said.

And how computers are connected to share information and processing power will change too. That’s what Van Meter explores in his book Quantum Networking.   

The man who is envisioning the future of IT has worked at Keio University for the last 10 years.  On a previous work assignment there, he met and married his wife Mayumi.  They have two teenage daughters.

But despite living 6000 miles away, Van Meter still makes it back to West Virginia every year.  And while he was at Duke, he came home to Williamson every month.

“My family is very, very close, and we have stayed close despite the distance. It’s possible to do that. You have to put in a lot of effort. And we do,” said Van Meter.

Growing up, Rod was extremely asthmatic, repeatedly landing in the emergency room. Even so, he was always an excellent student, graduating Williamson High School at age 16.

On a recent trip home he pointed out the sound of the whistle train heard down the tracks.

“To me the sound of that diesel horn is really the sound of Williamson. I used to lie awake at night, on nights when I couldn’t sleep, and to me it’s kind of a lonely but comforting sound,” said Van Meter.

“You can leave West Virginia without leaving West Virginia behind.  In that sense, I guess I will always carry both my family and West Virginia in my heart.”

Editor’s note:  Enjoy the stories of more than 2 dozen Inspiring West Virginians during an encore presentation of all 6 programs, Dec. 29 – Dec. 31, beginning at 8pm on West Virginia Public Radio.