Ray Johnson on Quantum Computing, Ocean Thermal and Diversity

Lockheed Martin's CTO opens up on big engineering and big topics

Recently, Todd Sierer sat down with Doctor Ray Johnson, CTO of Lockheed Martin, at the USA Science & Engineering Festival. Lockheed Martin is one of the founding sponsors of the festival where they showcase their engineering feats and specialists.

Can you get specific on some of the really up-and-coming or exciting projects Lockheed Martin is working on?

“I’ll give you two examples. One a little more near-term, one a little more further-term.”

“The first one is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion or OTEC … Let me describe OTEC. OTEC takes advantage of the temperature of the water at the surface, warm temperatures, and compares it to the cold temperature very deep.”

“And so if you can take a cold water pipe, many meters in diameter, and take that to the bottom, maybe a mile deep, [you can] bring up that very cold water. And then you use the temperature difference to run a thermodynamic Rankine cycle which runs a steam turbine. And so if you think about renewable energy … it is very green from an environmental point of view.”

“And so we’re actually building a 10 megawatt OTEC plant off the coast of southern China which will provide power to a resort and a community there.”

“The second example is quantum computing. [Where] we’ve been working, really for about the last two and a half years on two initiatives.”

“One of them is as a company called D-Wave. And we have two of the D-Wave computers at the University of Southern California. The D-Wave computer is an adiabatic process that super cools the processor and then essentially runs an optimization engine. You take a problem and restate it as an optimization problem. And then this particular process finds the quantum solution, through a quantum process … to this optimization problem. And we’re using that for things like verification and validation of very complex software.”

“We also recently signed an agreement with the University of Maryland overlooking a different method, an ion trap method of quantum computer solutions. So that will really allow us to extend computing capability to a new era of quantum computing.”

It seems that Lockheed is so well poised to do this because of the size, the resources and the smart array of people you’ve got. It’s a useful group to be doing it.

To change gears, a very common topic is diversity. The need to make sure to have a diverse array of people involved in a problem. As a large employment environment, what is Lockheed’s take on diversity?

“That’s one of the reasons we’re here at the festival. If you think about Washington, D.C., I encourage you to go downstairs and walk through the festival and what you’ll see there is a very diverse crowd.”

“And we as a nation, for our competitiveness, certainly we as a corporation, with sixty thousand engineers, scientists, and technologists, need to be able to tap into what has been historically the non-represented. So this includes minorities, women and girls in engineering and science. We need to tap into that workforce for our future, because our engineering workforce in the corporation needs to look like the neighborhoods in the cities, in the states, that they live in. And today they don’t necessarily.”

“The part that’s a really important component of diversity is linkage to innovation. What we find is that people with a different perspective, not just race, creed and color, but different background, different education, different environments, they come in and look at a problem in a very different way. And as they do they bring innovative solutions.”

“And the way I described this is you’re working very closely with your colleagues, you’ve been working for two weeks on a tough problem. All the sudden Friday afternoon at four o’clock a knock on the door:

‘Can I come in?’
It’s Susan and Susan doesn’t work in your group, she doesn’t have a background like yours and she says ‘What you guys doing?’
‘Oh come on Susan, it’s Friday afternoon, leave us alone.’
‘No really, tell me what you’re doing.’
And then you reluctantly describe to Susan what it is you’re doing and guess what she says, ‘Have you thought of…’
And you interrupt her, ‘Of course we thought of everything!’
Finally she says, ‘Have you thought of…’

“Boom the answer.”

“That’s the kind of diversity that we need to have in our corporation, and the engineering environment to enable us to take on the hardest problems.”