Women’s Day Week Special: SheQuantum Exclusive Interview with Professor Sabrina Maniscalco, University of Helsinki, Finland, Vice Director of the Finnish Centre of Excellence for Quantum Technologies & CEO @ Algorithmiq Oy

Prof Sabrina Maniscalco

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum:  Could you briefly explain the current quantum computing related research undertaken at University of Helsinki?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: My group, Helteq, at the University of Helsinki works on several quantum technology-related topics, specifically, open quantum systems, complex quantum networks and, more recently, quantum algorithms.

“My group, Helteq, at the University of Helsinki works on several quantum technology-related topics, specifically, open quantum systems, complex quantum networks and, more recently, quantum algorithms”

For the latter one, we collaborate with the Computer Science Department on quantum software engineering. In a broader context, at the University of Helsinki there are several groups working on quantum science and technologies, from high energy physics to quantum chemistry, quantum machine learning, quantum field theory, and quantum materials.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Your ‘QPlayLearn’ initiative for teaching quantum science and technologies through games is quite interesting! What triggered you to initiate this?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: Qplaylearn’s mission is to provide multilevel education on quantum science and technologies to anyone, regardless of their age and background. Our holistic perspective stems from the recognition that different types of intelligence dominate the learning process of each individual. Therefore we have created a threefold approach: Play (intuition), Discover (experimentation) and Learn (logic and analytic thinking).

“Qplaylearn’s mission is to provide multilevel education on quantum science and technologies to anyone, regardless of their age and background. Our holistic perspective stems from the recognition that different types of intelligence dominate the learning process of each individual”

The reason why we started Qplaylearn is because we realised how important it is to use engaging and diverse tools to learn about quantum science and technologies. Generally, I love communicating science, in particular outreach and science & art projects and believe in the immense value of multidisciplinary projects and approaches.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What sparked your interest in Quantum Computing?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: I’d say my main passion is quantum science and technologies, in general, and quantum computing is just an aspect of it. That said, it’s fascinating to think the enormous impact quantum computers could have in our everyday life.

“I think we all have the desire to live a meaningful life. The idea that my work could benefit society at large is very exciting”

I think we all have the desire to live a meaningful life. The idea that my work could benefit society at large is very exciting.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: How does it feel to be a women leader in the present quantum research space? What values are most important to you as a woman researcher?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: Inclusiveness, creativity, attention to the path rather than the goal, emotional intelligence, resilience, courage, curiosity, open-mindedness, fun! Not all of these are values in the strictest sense, but you get the idea :).

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Do we have enough women in quantum computing?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: We could certainly have more! It’s a complex problem which is part of the more general issue of recognising and most of all appreciating gender diversity. I think it is important to examine and discuss these issues as much as possible.

“There are several ways to improve the current situation: being an example to other women scientists, as well as mentoring, is surely very important but definitively not sufficient”

There are several ways to improve the current situation: being an example to other women scientists, as well as mentoring, is surely very important but definitively not sufficient. I feel there is often the risk that women scientists might repress their natural attitudes and characteristics in order to adapt and be successful in a man-dominated world. What really is important is to allow our natural and inclinations to be expressed freely rather than repressed, or rather than feeling the need to change them to comply with rules and behaviors which may be unnatural to us.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What is your advice to women looking to start their Quantum journey?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: In truth this is really the same advice I would give “in general”. Just substitute the “general”  with “quantum journey”. There is nothing special with respect to a journey into anything which is a passion for you, really.

“To ask often to yourself: Is this the life I want? If not, what can I do to change things and/or change myself?”

Therefore the main advise is the same of what I would give to young men. To live an examined life, to be curious and explore your thoughts and habits. To understand and be aware of whether the directions you are taking, and the way you are living your life, reflect your values, and align with your deepest goals. To ask often to yourself: Is this the life I want? If not, what can I do to change things and/or change myself?

“The specific advice for women is: be wild, passionate and untamed! Look for “scientific mothers” who can inspire you, and try to be an inspiration for other women”

The specific advice for women is: be wild, passionate and untamed! Look for “scientific mothers” who can inspire you, and try to be an inspiration for other women.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Being a professor and also as an entrepreneur, what’s your take on Academia vs Industry for women?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: I don’t think one is better than the other for women (or men). It really depends on which are your main interests, what is the type of life you want.

“I worked for most of my life in Academia and it’s only now that I am trying the new journey of co-founding a startup. It really depends on the situation, on the people you are working with, on the specific moment you are in life”

There are many aspects I like of industry and many I like of Academia, but of course I worked for most of my life in Academia and it’s only now that I am trying the new journey of co-founding a startup. It really depends on the situation, on the people you are working with, on the specific moment you are in life. Nothing can be said detached from the context of the life you are living and want to live.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What is your “International Women’s Day 2021 message” to young girls and women who want to pursue quantum computing?

Answer from Prof. Sabrina Maniscalco @University of Helsinki, Finland: Go and shine, girls! And always listen to your inner child! Just ignore anyone telling you that you are not enough, because you are A STAR!

Go and shine, girls! And always listen to your inner child! Just ignore anyone telling you that you are not enough, because you are A STAR!

Lastly, Thanks Nithyasri for being an example showing us how, if you are really passionate about something, you will always find a way to follow your dreams, even if it means to invent a concept which did not exist before!

“Lastly, Thanks Nithyasri for being an example showing us how, if you are really passionate about something, you will always find a way to follow your dreams, even if it means to invent a concept which did not exist before!”

As I said above, we need to be inspired by other women and to re-write scientific history by giving visibility also to the many wonderful women scientists who exist and have existed in the past. Thanks!

Dr Sabrina Maniscalco, Professor of Quantum Information and Logic at the University of Helsinki, Finland, the Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Turku and an Adjunct Professor at Aalto University, Finland. She is the Vice Director of the Finnish Centre of Excellence for Quantum Technologies & serves on the Boards of the Centre for Quantum Engineering at Aalto University, of the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (Austria) and of the Nordita-Condensed Matter Institute (Sweden). Sabrina obtained her PhD at the University of Palermo (Italy) in 2004 and has held academic research positions around the world, in Sofia (Bulgaria), Durban (South Africa), Turku (Finland) and Edinburgh (UK). She returned to Finland in 2014 to lead the Theoretical Physics Laboratory in Turku.

Sabrina has coordinated several international and interdisciplinary projects, and is recognised as one of the leading experts in Quantum Technologies. She loves inventing novel approaches to doing research, learning, and innovating, and believes in the power of “engineering synchronicity” and in the joys of good food, sauna, road-trips, and outdoor living and interestingly she is also an entrepreneur; as the CEO of Algorithmiq Oy, she is pioneering quantum algorithms to tackle computational problems in life sciences and data science.

Nithyasri Srivathsan, Founder & CEO, SheQuantum is an aspiring Quantum Computing Scientist and the author of “Quantum Computing An [Unconventional Beginners’] Book” which was honored by BookAuthority with the “1 of the 6 Best Quantum Computing eBooks for Beginners” International Award 2020. Nithyasri deeply enjoys using her voice through SheQuantum to impact, inspire and quantum educate women. She is keen on influencing women across the globe to pursue the field of Quantum Computing and has a proven success record in this. A strong advocate of the interdisciplinary nature of the sciences, Nithyasri’s passionate about making women perceive Quantum Computing through the lenses of Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and every other natural science that there is. Nithyasri aims to conduct cutting-edge research in Quantum Computing, Programming Languages, and Quantum Algorithms and is very keen on being a part of the quantum academia, in order to teach quantum in the simplest way yet without the loss of mathematical rigorousness. Always up to making a meaningful contribution to Quantum Computing in every way possible!

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