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Solve Max-Cut Problem Using QAOA

This example shows how to use the quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA) to solve max-cut problems. The max-cut problem is a graph partitioning problem whose objective is to create two subsets of vertices that maximize the number of edges between the two groups. In this example, you first solve a max-cut problem classically by considering all graph partitions and then solve it using QAOA.

Set up Max-Cut Problem

Generally, the max-cut problem can be expressed as


where N is the number of nodes in the graph, xi denotes which node subset node i is in using 0 or 1, and wij is the weight of the edge between nodes i and j.

Create and plot a four-node graph where all edges have unit weight 1.

s = [1 1 2 3];
t = [2 4 3 4];
weights = [1 1 1 1];
G = graph(s,t,weights);

Using the max-cut expression, the objective function to maximize for this graph is:

f=i,j=14wijxi(1-xj)   =(x1(1-x2)+x2(1-x1))+(x1(1-x4)+x4(1-x1))         +(x2(1-x3)+x3(1-x2))+(x3(1-x4)+x4(1-x3))

Solve Using Classical Approach

A graph with N nodes has 2N possible solutions, or ways to partition the nodes into two subsets. For the four-node example, there are 24, or 16, possible solutions. Use the objective function to calculate the solution for each partition and list them in a table. Each row of the allSols table represents a possible partition, and the table variable f represents the objective value for the corresponding partition, or how many edges are between the subsets.

x = double(dec2bin(0:15) == '1');
[i,j] = findedge(G);
allFval = sum(x(:,i) .* (1-x(:,j)),2) + sum(x(:,j) .* (1-x(:,i)),2);
allSols = array2table([x,allFval],VariableNames=["x1","x2","x3","x4","f"]);
allSols = sortrows(allSols,"f","descend")
allSols=16×5 table
    x1    x2    x3    x4    f
    __    __    __    __    _

    0     1     0     1     4
    1     0     1     0     4
    0     0     0     1     2
    0     0     1     0     2
    0     0     1     1     2
    0     1     0     0     2
    0     1     1     0     2
    0     1     1     1     2
    1     0     0     0     2
    1     0     0     1     2
    1     0     1     1     2
    1     1     0     0     2
    1     1     0     1     2
    1     1     1     0     2
    0     0     0     0     0
    1     1     1     1     0

Two solutions maximize the number of edges between the two subsets of nodes. In both solutions, the graph is partitioned so that nodes x1 and x3 are in one subset and nodes x2 and x4 are in the other subset. These partitions result in four edges between the two groups.

Set Up QAOA Approach

QAOA is a quantum-classical hybrid approach to solving optimization problems. In this hybrid approach, you create a quantum circuit that represents potential solutions to the problem, and a classical optimizer iteratively adjusts the angles in the circuit to improve the quality of the solution. For the max-cut problem, the QAOA approach has steps for initialization, optimization, and termination.


  • Create a QAOA circuit that encodes the max-cut problem. This circuit is composed of Hadamard and rotation gates that are parameterized by the set of angles θ.

  • Define a set of initial angles θ0.


  • Measure the QAOA circuit.

  • Calculate the expected objective value from the measurements.

  • Update the angles that are used in the QAOA circuit if the termination criteria is not met.


  • Measure the QAOA circuit at the set of angles θ that satisfy the termination criteria.

  • Return the final values.

This expectedObjectiveValue function implements the algorithm steps for the four-node example.

function expVal = expectedObjectiveValue(theta,G,numLayers,numShots)
    % Create and simulate the QAOA circuit.
    circuit = qaoaCircuit(G,theta,numLayers);
    sv = simulate(circuit);
    % Measure circuit numShots times.
    meas = randsample(sv,numShots);
    % Convert measured state to double matrix, assuming all entries are 0 or 1.
    x = double(char(meas.MeasuredStates) == '1');

    % Calculate number of cuts for each measured state.
    [i,j] = findedge(G);
    numCuts = sum(x(:,i) .* (1-x(:,j)),2) + sum(x(:,j) .* (1-x(:,i)),2);

    % Calculate expected number of cuts.
    expVal = sum(meas.Counts.*numCuts)/numShots;

QAOA Circuit

The QAOA circuit for the max-cut problem uses a set of Hadamard gates, which place all gates in an equal superposition, and layers of cost and mixer gates, as seen in the circuit from [2]. The cost gates encode a Hamiltonian for the objective function of the optimization problem. The mixer gates, which allow the quantum state to transition between energy states, encode a simple Hamiltonian whose maximal state is ++++. This maximal state is the equal superposition state generated by the initial Hadamard gates and the initial QAOA state.

QAOA workflow for the max-cut problem, showing a quantum circuit with four Hadamard gates and layers of cost and mixer gates. The workflow iteratively measures the circuit, calculates the expected objective value, and updates the cost gate angles and mixer gate angles.

Create the QAOA circuit for one layer of the max-cut problem using the qaoaCircuit helper function. Here, gamma and beta define the angle of the cost gate and the angle of the mixer gate, respectively. To view the code for this helper function, see Helper Function.

gamma = 1;
beta = 3;
circuit = qaoaCircuit(G,[gamma;beta],1);

This circuit has four qubits, one for each node in the graph. Four Hadamard gates place all the qubits in an equal superposition and are followed by cost gates, composed of RZZ gates, and mixer gates, composed of RX gates. Each RZZ gate encodes an edge relationship in the original graph.

In general, the alternating cost and mixer gates approximately solve the problem because QAOA is a discretized example of adiabatic quantum computation (AQC), as described in [1] and [2].

AQC uses a quantum system that combines a mixer Hamiltonian HM, which represents an energy state that is easy to prepare, and a cost Hamiltonian HC, which represents the energy state of the problem of interest. The adiabatic theorem states that if a quantum system starts in the given energy state of HM, then it will remain in that state while HM is evolved to HC, given that the change occurs at a sufficiently slow rate.

The Hamiltonian combination for the max-cut problem is


where T is the total run time of the system. The solution to the Schrödinger equation for this circuit can be written using the Trotter-Suzuki approximation as a series of multiplications of cost and mixer gates.

Simulate Iterations of Max-Cut

Use surrogateopt (Global Optimization Toolbox) with the objective function to maximize the expected objective value. In this example, use two layers of cost-mixer gates and sample the circuit 1000 times each time the optimizer calculates the expected objective value. surrogateopt calculates a global minimum, so the negation of the expected objective value is minimized. Set the maximum number of objective function evaluations to 100.

numLayers = 2;
numShots = 1000;
objFcn = @(theta) - expectedObjectiveValue(theta,G,numLayers,numShots);
bound = repmat(pi,2*numLayers,1);
x0Theta = rand(2,numLayers);
options = optimoptions("surrogateopt",InitialPoints=x0Theta,MaxFunctionEvaluations=100);
[angles,bestfval] = surrogateopt(objFcn,-bound,bound,[],[],[],[],[],options)
surrogateopt stopped because it exceeded the function evaluation limit set by 
angles = 1×4

   -1.5952    2.7327   -2.3445    2.3918

bestfval = -3.9980

The best function value is approximately 4. In other words, the maximum number of edges between two subsets of nodes is 4.

Construct the quantum circuit using the optimized angles, and simulate the circuit to see the expected probability distribution over qubit states. The 0101 and 1010 states appear with the highest probabilities, which were the two solutions found when calculating the expected values classically.

optimizedCircuit = qaoaCircuit(G,angles,numLayers);
sv = simulate(optimizedCircuit);

Run Final Iteration on QPU

Connect to an IonQ device using quantum.backend.QuantumDeviceAWS. Specify the region of the device and path to a bucket to store results.

reg = "us-east-1";
bucketPath = "s3://amazon-braket-mathworks/doc-examples";
device = quantum.backend.QuantumDeviceAWS("Aria 1",S3Path=bucketPath,Region=reg)
device = 
  QuantumDeviceAWS with properties:

         Name: "Aria 1"
    DeviceARN: "arn:aws:braket:us-east-1::device/qpu/ionq/Aria-1"
       Region: "us-east-1"
       S3Path: "s3://amazon-braket-mathworks/doc-examples"

Create a task to run the circuit with optimized angles on the QPU. Specify the number of shots as 1000.

task = run(optimizedCircuit,device,NumShots=1000);

Fetch the results and plot a histogram of the states.

results = fetchOutput(task);

The states 0101 and 1010 appear again as the states with the highest probabilities, so the QPU results agree with the local simulation of the circuit.

Helper Function

This code defines the qaoaCircuit helper function.

function circuit = qaoaCircuit(G,params,r) 
    params = reshape(params,[2 r]);
    N = numnodes(G);
    edges = G.Edges.EndNodes;
    target1 = edges(:,1);
    target2 = edges(:,2);
    gates = [];
    for ii = 1:r
        % Include a cost gate with the specified gamma angle.
        gates = [gates; rzzGate(target1,target2,params(1,ii))];
        % Include a mixer gate with the specified beta angle.
        gates = [gates; rxGate(1:N,2*params(2,ii))];        
    circuit = quantumCircuit([hGate(1:N);gates]);


[1] J., Abhijith, Adetokunbo Adedoyin, John Ambrosiano, Petr Anisimov, William Casper, Gopinath Chennupati, Carleton Coffrin, et al. “Quantum Algorithm Implementations for Beginners.” ACM Transactions on Quantum Computing 3, no. 4 (December 31, 2022): 1–92.

[2] Zhou, Leo, Sheng-Tao Wang, Soonwon Choi, Hannes Pichler, and Mikhail D. Lukin. “Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm: Performance, Mechanism, and Implementation on Near-Term Devices.” Physical Review X 10, no. 2 (June 24, 2020): 021067.

See Also

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