Khoury Research Award and Diploma in Hand, CS + Physics Grad William Cutler Continues at Oxford

While many of William Cutler’s middle school peers were busy playing sports or participating in extracurricular activities, he was already getting his start in computer science.

Beginning in seventh grade, Cutler spent his free time creating small text games and teaching himself coding languages. Later, as a sophomore in high school, Cutler took AP Physics 1, sparking his interest in the subject. With interests in the two disciplines but unsure how to mold them together, Cutler arrived in Boston as a member of the Northeastern Explore Program for undeclared students.

But despite a wide range of in-class experiences over his first two years of college, it wasn’t until his experiential learning opportunities that Cutler found his ideal career path. In the years since, the computer science and physics combined major took every opportunity he could, with research projects, co-ops, and fieldwork built around his interests.

Cutler’s first two co-ops focused on software development, while also blending in elements of research. His first position, in spring 2021, was on the API team at CNC Software, where he helped maintain the software’s useability, debug code, and connect Mastercam software — which offers advanced design tools to manufacture technology — to other programs. At the end of his time there, Cutler presented his findings at a company-wide presentation.

“It was incredibly rewarding for my first professional experience, seeing the impact that I had as a new employee in this field,” Cutler says.

A year later, in his second co-op, Cutler worked on Amazon Robotics’ resource management team, where he designed and deployed solutions to optimize robots on the Amazon warehouse floors, in addition to debugging the robots’ software systems.

“Things are constantly changing on the floor, so resources need to be reevaluated and reallocated,” Cutler says. “The part of this that felt like research for me, the part of this that I enjoyed, was I would essentially just be given a problem — not a computer science or coding problem, but a problem that’s happening on the warehouse floor.”

But the computing co-ops scratched just one of his disciplinary itches. To address the other, Cutler sought out research opportunities abroad to get more hands-on exposure to physics in a professional setting.

This past summer, Cutler worked at Oxford University in a trapped ion lab. Trapped ions are used as fundamental units of information in quantum computing and are studied to build large-scale quantum systems. Funded by Northeastern’s PEAK Trail-blazer Award, he worked alongside Chris Ballance, a Future Leaders Fellow at Oxford, contributing to calibration experiments for trapped-ion quantum computers.

“Calibration is a big deal in experimental physics to make sure all your devices are working properly, because if they’re not, then you can’t get an accurate measurement. And that’s what you’re there for,” Cutler says. “That was an incredibly exciting project to be working on, both geographically and intellectually.”

In addition, Cutler found a viable route to continue his exploration of physics, specifically in the realm of quantum computing.

Following his time abroad, Cutler found himself more on the physics side of things for his final co-op this fall. This position was at NK Labs in Cambridge, where he worked on a muon-catalyzed nuclear fusion experiment that aimed to create novel fusion conditions and measure the outcomes using a suite of precision detectors. Cutler’s role involved developing a radiation detector to make sense of the complicated fusion process. And to have a beam of muons to run the experiment, the entire team spent two months working out of the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.

“It was really an incredible experience of getting the full picture of research, from reading papers and coming up with an idea to testing it, iterating, and prototyping,” Cutler says. “It really filled out for me what being an experimental physics researcher would be like. And I got a trip to Switzerland for two months!”

After completing these opportunities in both physics and computer science, and after graduating from Northeastern earlier this month, Cutler will pursue a doctorate in atomic and laser physics at Oxford, where he will continue to research trapped-ion quantum computers. Though his long-term plans include quantum technology research, he also believes that with his skill set, he can have versatility in his career.

“I have a great chance of finding a job in computer science and physics, based on my work experience and on the knowledge of what I actually am interested in and want to do,” Cutler says. “If you tally it all up, I’m walking out of here as a 22-year-old with nearly two years of full-time work experience in a variety of fields. That’s really powerful.”

Originally Published at by Olivia Mintz Read More