“Quantum computing has been with us for years, but until relatively recently, it was a minority field. Many did not think we could build those quantum computers that theoretical physicists say would be so powerful. Still, technology is advancing; fortunately, many continued to insist that this was important and that we would get there someday. Thanks to the Recovery Funds, that day has come, and so has the needed funding.”
What is your profession, and how long have you been in the research world?
I have a PhD in physics specializing in quantum computing. I have been involved in science all my professional life. I started in research at the end of my physics degree at the University of Barcelona, when I did my final thesis. That was my first contact with research as a profession. That was in 2014, and since then, I have not been able to stop!
Why did you choose this profession?
I have always been curious to know about everything. Since I was little, I have liked to read and skim everything that passes through my hands. At home, we had a couple of those children’s encyclopedia books with lots of images and photos. I knew them by heart, but I always stopped longer on the pages about the cosmos, space, and planets. My father, a great fan of the popularizer and writer Isaac Asimov, passed on to me his interest in science fiction, which gradually shifted the balance over the years towards the physics of the cosmos. I had a very good physics teacher in high school who convinced me to choose this career. During my physics career, I discovered many things I had never heard of, and I realized how much is known about how Nature works and how incredible it is, but also how much we still have to discover. I wanted to be part of those people dedicated to further extending that line of human knowledge. I came across quantum computing and chose to pull that little piece of the lin
How did Quantum Spain come about, and what motivated you to be part of the project?
Quantum Spain is the result of the tenacity and hard work of many Spanish researchers who have prepared the ground so that we can move forward with the proper funding for such an ambitious and innovative project. Quantum computing has been with us for years, but until relatively recently, it was a minority field. Many did not think we could build those quantum computers that theoretical physicists say will be so powerful, but technology advances. Fortunately, many continued to insist that this was important and that we would get there someday. Thanks to the Recovery Funds, that day has come, and so has the needed funding. Before Quantum Spain, I was doing my postdoc in Canada but wanted to return to Spain, and I started to find out what positions I could apply for. It just so happened that Quantum Spain was about to be approved, and the CSB was looking for the coordinator, so I applied and here I am! I can’t imagine a better personal and professional opportunity: to have the responsibility of leading a project that will place Spain at the forefront of quantum computing. It is a great scientific challenge that allows me to meet and collaborate with all those scientists in this field in our country.
What is the differentiating element of Quantum Spain compared to other quantum computing projects?
The differentiating factor of Quantum Spain is that it is designed to cover the entire quantum computing ecosystem in the country. It is not a project of a single research institute or a single region, but rather it seeks to constitute a solid network for research and development in quantum computing. For this reason, it is addressed to the Spanish Supercomputing Network, whose coordinator is the BSC. The RES is the ideal mechanism to bring a new computing model to all corners: its nodes have extensive experience managing complex computational resources, and it is natural to add a new one: a quantum computer. What I like most is that this project goes beyond RES and other participating institutions. What we are creating is for the whole society; its access will be free and open, allowing anyone interested in using a quantum computer to do so.
Why is it so important to continue researching and developing quantum computing?
I have two answers: the pragmatic and the scientific. The pragmatic one is that we cannot afford to fall behind in a technology that anticipates being so disruptive. We would be holding our hands over our heads if, in the 40s and 50s, it was questioned why it is so important to invest in transistors and computing machines. Even assuming that the quantum computer takes longer than expected to realize its full potential, along the way, we are training generations of specialists in physics, computing and programming, developing new materials to build these computers, improving techniques in micro and nanoelectronics, artificial intelligence, and so on. All these gains are not exclusive to quantum computing but have repercussions in many other fields. It is not time or money wasted.
The scientific answer is that we are discovering how Nature computes. The laws of physics govern the Universe and everything in it: the “larger” or lower energy objects follow the laws of classical physics, while the smaller ones, such as atoms or light (the building blocks of everything), are governed by quantum physics. We know how to use classical physics to compute, and now we are discovering how quantum physics can go further. There has to be a way because these rules govern Nature. If we want to understand it beyond what we know, we must go down to the quantum level and use all its techniques.
How have you found the experience so far?
Stimulating, fun and difficult. As I said, the challenge is worth it, and it is a positive experience to carry it out. Difficult because I have had to face challenges for which I had little experience, but fortunately, I’m not doing it alone, and with the help of the rest of the team, we managed to pull it all off. Just one person cannot carry out projects of this magnitude. That is also a positive part of Quantum Spain, having many people and teams’ support, drive and energy.
Do you think it is important to make women more visible in science? Why?
Without any doubt. It is hard and sometimes uncomfortable to arrive at a workplace and find that you are the only one in your class. It can discourage you from continuing and awakens your imposter syndrome, among other things. If you also see that in your field, there is no one like you at the top or in higher positions, it sends the message that it is a field that is hostile to women or unwilling to work to improve the situation. That is why it is important to show that we are there and will support all those who want to continue. Reversing this situation of inequality will not happen overnight. It will come from the measures that society puts in place, but at least we show a path to those who have started and encourage them to continue.
Do you have any advice for young researchers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Try to be guided by your curiosity and not by fads (which also exist in research). If all researchers did the same, there would never be innovation, and new scientific fields would never open up. Look for support networks at all times: science is not done alone; collaboration is essential to advance in the field and your day-to-day when doubts and frustrations assail you. Having a good network of collaborators and colleagues helps you to move things forward, make the best decisions and enjoy what you do.