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Physicists use an old board game for their quantum physics research

Physicists use an old board game for their quantum physics research

In a new study published in the journal AVS Quantum Science, Tulane University researchers applied a modified, self-contained version of the protractor, which they call ManQala, to quantum state engineering, the field of quantum physics that deals with placing quantum systems into specific states. Molly McCrory of Tulane University writes at

Origin of Mancala It dates back to 6000 in Jordan and is still played all over the world. It consists of stones that players have to move between rows of small holes on a wooden game board. The objective of the game is to move all the stones to the last hole at the end of the board.

The central problem in quantum state engineering is what needs to be done to bring the quantum system to the desired state, said Ryan Glaser, assistant professor of physics in the College of Science and Technology. Essentially, researchers need to know how to get particles to certain places, or how to make particles have certain energies, in order to study them and use quantum computers. This is more difficult with quantum particles, such as stones on a protractor plate. Quantum things in general are very sensitive and difficult to control. The system can quickly collapse and we lose the quantitative benefits we enjoy or would like to have.

Foldable protractors boardSource:

Quantum physicists already have some ways to solve these problems, but the simulations conducted by the researchers in this study showed that ManQala is more efficient, even on simpler systems. They really see the benefits, even in these simplistic 3-stone, 2-hole systems.

This study is one of many in the field of quantum gaming that effectively takes ordinary games like Sudoku, checkers or tic-tac-toe and applies the rules of quantum physics to them and learns about interesting things that can happen. When working with quantum particles and not physical stones, the particles have the ability to interfere with each other when they are in adjacent pits, which means more moves are available, at least for a protractor, and we can win the game by applying quantum rules. Where they do not, we will be able to do so if we apply the classical rules.

Boards: a) Choquilon (single player version of Mancala) and its direct quantum analogue b) Protractor. Both panels are shown, with N = 3 stones and M = 3 grid locations and arrows showing seeding.Source:

Although this study focuses on simulation, Glaser is optimistic about future protractor applications.

He stated that this is currently in the field of theory, but he believes that it is certainly possible experimentally, and hopes to apply ManQala to IBM’s Quantum Cloud detection machine.

which he used in the past for research with co-authors Thomas Searles of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Brian Kirby, assistant professor at Tulane University


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