“SheQuantum’s exclusive” Interview with Professor Armand Soldera, Vice-Dean Development & Partnerships, Faculty of Science, Dept. of Chemistry, Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada

Dr Armand Soldera

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What specific research work is carried out at Laboratory of Physical-Chemistry of Matter (LPCM), Université de Sherbrooke under your leadership and what’s its influence on quantum computing?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: The purpose of the research done at the Laboratory of Molecular Physics and Chemistry (LPCM) is to better understand the link between the molecular and the macroscopic.

In particular, we are interested in phase transitions in soft matter such as polymers, liquid crystals, or organic glasses. It is because of the concentration within this three-part group at each space time scale that it is possible to account for the microscopic phenomena giving rise to a macroscopic property, and thus to the appearance of the phase transition. The ultimate goal, when the molecular is better understood, is to propose new materials with improved properties.

As for the influence on quantum computing, a new Ph.D. student from my lab will work in collaboration with Benoit Champagne from the University of Namur (Belgium) to better grasp the way to make more efficient calculations in computational chemistry using quantum computers. Collaboration with IBM-Q, the quantum platform of the Institut Quantique, is at the heart of this collaboration. Quantum computing is important for my field, theoretical chemistry. I am working on developing partnerships with researchers in quantum computing to develop algorithms that can be useful to all researchers who want to use them.

“Quantum computing is important for my field, theoretical chemistry. I am working on developing partnerships with researchers in quantum computing to develop algorithms that can be useful to all researchers who want to use them.”

I also worked on the organization of the Quantum Excellence Network, a partnership between the Universities of Strasbourg (France) and Hamburg (Germany), Université de Sherbrooke, and Macquarie University (Australia).  It provided a platform to connect the future quantum experts (over 120 doctoral researchers, 130 Bachelor and Master students and 30 postdocs) with over 80 industry professionals representing 30+ quantum technology companies.

“I also worked on the organization of the Quantum Excellence Network, a partnership between the Universities of Strasbourg (France) and Hamburg (Germany), Université de Sherbrooke, and Macquarie University (Australia).”

I strive to take every opportunity to contribute to the training and development of students, as they are the ones who will generate the next discoveries in the field. I think the development of this highly skilled workforce will benefit the entire quantum community.

In this context, a brand-new undergraduate program in quantum science was recently submitted to the government of Quebec for its approval.

“In this context, a brand-new undergraduate program in quantum science was recently submitted to the government of Quebec for its approval.”

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Can you throw some light on Institut quantique (IQ – a research institute at the Université de Sherbrooke) that focuses mainly on quantum science and technologies?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: Institut quantique is a research institute at the Université de Sherbrooke that focuses mainly on quantum science and technologies. With a vibrant scientific community of nearly 30 professors and over 150 graduate students, our research institute brings together experts in quantum materials, quantum information and quantum engineering to conduct high-quality fundamental research and develop the quantum technologies of the future.

“Our research institute brings together experts in quantum materials, quantum information and quantum engineering to conduct high-quality fundamental research and develop the quantum technologies of the future.”

Our institute has an experimental research and numerical computing infrastructure managed by a team of qualified technicians and research professionals. We offer a dynamic research environment including summer schools that attract students from around the world as well as weekly seminars and annual workshops on quantum materials, quantum information, mesoscopic physics or digital methods. Research at the Institut quantique is carried out in a spirit of collaboration reinforced by many solid collaborations with researchers from other countries.

“Research at the Institut quantique is carried out in a spirit of collaboration reinforced by many solid collaborations with researchers from other countries.”

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Quantum Computing is often said to be revolutionizing our understanding of molecular modelling and dynamics. As an expert in Physical Chemistry, what is your opinion on the role of Chemistry in Quantum Computing?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: The quantum computer’s computational possibilities will enable us chemists, or physical chemists, to study larger systems and contribute to explore interesting research avenues such as the modeling of protein-folding, force field, interaction of atoms (several thousand atoms) and pharmaceutics.

Simplified to its simplest expression, chemistry is the study of reactions. Quantum computing will help us remove the trial-and-error process to model reactions, accessing phase transition and find out how the molecules interact. I believe that the computational possibilities will promote discoveries in my field.

The development of polymers and liquid crystals will undoubtedly be facilitated by discoveries in quantum computing.

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

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: Unfortunately, not yet enough. In science in general, women are under-represented. In physics in particular, there were 25% of women enrolled at the bachelor’s level in 2015-2016, while at the master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral levels, their representation is still decreasing (Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, 2020). 

“In science in general, women are under-represented. In physics in particular, there were 25% of women enrolled at the bachelor’s level in 2015-2016, while at the master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral levels, their representation is still decreasing”

These proportions are different in other parts of the world, so I imagine it is possible to reverse the trend. I have given classes in Tunisia and the proportion of women in a class of 30 or 40 people was around 80 %.

We have much to do in the scientific community to attract girls to exciting and innovative fields of the future, such as quantum science.

“We have much to do in the scientific community to attract girls to exciting and innovative fields of the future, such as quantum science.”

As in many other fields, the more the scientific field is representative of society in general, the more science and its applications will tend to have a universal character.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Why do you think gender diversity is important in STEM, especially more so, in quantum computing?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: Everything must be built in this field; we must avoid the mistakes of other fields that were slow to ask questions about diversity and the need to promote it.

“Gender diversity in STEM and particularly in quantum physics is essential, obviously for reasons of equity and social justice.”

Gender diversity in STEM and particularly in quantum physics is essential, obviously for reasons of equity and social justice. Moreover, several studies have showed the positive impact of diversity on research (Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, CFSG,2020). Some of the many benefits include:

  • Increasing the presence of role models. The presence of female role models helps to break down stereotypes that a student faces and can help them to identify or be encouraged and motivated.
  • Addressing a broader range of concerns: Our identity shapes our concerns, i.e., what we care about and what we want to act on. In this sense, diverse groups will be able to express different concerns and address different issues, thus enriching the quantum research and the angles of approach.
  • Developing additional skills and learning to cope with difference: Several studies have examined the positive impact of ethnic and cultural diversity on the skills developed in students who have been exposed to it at an early age (Gurin, 1999).

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: As an experienced researcher, can you give us some insight on how one can get started out on a research career, especially women?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: For women in particular, finding one or more mentors can be a good way to advance your career. Indeed, female mentoring in traditionally male environments proves to be a good lever for the integration but especially for the retention of women in these environments (Mentorat Québec, 2019).

Mentors can be an excellent resource to help people who are just starting out in research. Tasks range from lab development, student recruitment and strategy development. All of these topics that can have a major impact on a person’s career can benefit from the guidance of a mentor. This is a new resource for new researchers and it is also very useful to help build one’s own network, an important and too often neglected element in the development of a career in research.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What’s your take on women choosing careers in Industry vs Academia in quantum computing?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: The main question, I think, is whether we should attract more students to this field of science. The answer is yes, needless to say.

In 2018, an article in the New York Times (The Next Tech Talent Shortage: Quantum Computing Researchers, Oct. 21, 2018) stated this:

 « By some accounts, fewer than a thousand people in the world can claim to be doing leading research in the field. »

“It seems obvious to me that, because of the strategic and scientific implications of quantum computing, it is necessary to develop a certain level of expertise in universities and to avoid the concentration of expertise in industry. In a way, expertise must be democratized.”

It seems obvious to me that, because of the strategic and scientific implications of quantum computing, it is necessary to develop a certain level of expertise in universities and to avoid the concentration of expertise in industry. In a way, expertise must be democratized. This is one of the research themes that we are addressing with colleagues from l’École de politique appliquée (School of Applied Politics), in the context of research on the ethical aspects of quantum science and technology.

As for my opinion on whether I would like women to choose industrial or academic careers, that’s up to them. For me, the important thing is that there is diversity in both industry and academia.

“As for my opinion on whether I would like women to choose industrial or academic careers, that’s up to them. For me, the important thing is that there is diversity in both industry and academia.”

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What’s your one advice for young women taking up research in quantum computing as their career choice?

Answer from Prof. Armand, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada: This is a field of the future, and there must be something exciting about participating in the development of this science. It’s a modern environment that is increasingly sensitive and aware of diversity issues.

“I would be lying if I said it was an easy environment. They have the chance to make their mark and the immense privilege of being able to serve as a model for other young women who may follow in their footsteps.”

They have to be persistent; I would be lying if I said it was an easy environment. They have the chance to make their mark and the immense privilege of being able to serve as a model for other young women who may follow in their footsteps. They will be pioneers, which in itself can be very exciting.

Quantum innovations have the potential to have a real social impact, to improve life in society and women must have a say in how these changes are made.

This is a very exciting and important time for science in general; its importance in our lives has been widely affirmed with great conviction in the context of this pandemic.

“The current momentum in the field of quantum science and technology, including the development of quantum computing, is likely to have societal impacts.”

The current momentum in the field of quantum science and technology, including the development of quantum computing, is likely to have societal impacts. As scientists, we must engage in a rigorous and serious dialogue with the population to inform them of the potential changes so that they are able to orient collective choices that will maximize the benefits and limit the risks.

About Prof Armand Soldera

Prof. Armand Soldera is the Vice-Dean Development & Partnerships at the Faculty of Science, and Professor at the Dept. of Chemistry, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada. With two decades of rich experience in academia, Prof. Soldera plays a key role in Laboratory of Physical-Chemistry of Matter (LPCM) and the aim of the research carried out at the LPCM is to better grasp the link between the molecular and the macroscopic by combining simulation, experiment and theory. Prof. Soldera is an expert in Multiscale simulation of soft matter: from quantum to mesoscale, Polymers, Liquid crystals and in the study of phase transitions which includes, glass transition, melting between mesophases. With a Ph.D from University of Strasbourg, France in Physical Chemistry Matter and a post-doctoral fellowship at Université Laval, Canada. He was the chair of the Dept. of Chemistry, and he chaired CQMF Quebec Center for Advanced Materials (CQMF / QCAM) which is a strategic interuniversity group working in the field of functional materials for biomedical, environmental and energies, nanotechnology and polymers. He co edited a book Advanced Materials, De Gruyter (2020). He is also serving as a Co-Editor in Chief at Springer Chemistry Africa. 

About Nithyasri Srivathsan

Nithyasri Srivathsan is the Founder & CEO, SheQuantum and is a quantum technologist, author and keynote speaker in quantum computing. She is pioneering simplified quantum computing education and breaking down barriers in bringing more women globally into quantum computing and enabling them with skills they will need to enter the workforce, through her quantum EdTech startup, SheQuantum. She is also the ‘Best International Quantum Computing Author 2020’ and has delivered various tech talks globally. Her research interests lie in programming languages, quantum algorithms, computer science, applied physics and applied mathematics. Nithyasri is a firm advocate of the interdisciplinary nature of science and her vision is to inspire more women globally to pursue careers in quantum technologies.

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