“SheQuantum’s exclusive” Interview with Dr. Jorge Barreto, Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training Director, Faculty, School of Physics, Quantum Engineering Technology Labs, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Dr Jorge Barreto

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What specific research work is being carried out currently at The Quantum Engineering Technology Labs (QET Labs) at the University of Bristol under your leadership and what’s its influence on quantum technologies?

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: QET Labs brings together a broad range of expertise in quantum technologies, with particular emphasis on applied quantum optics. The wider group covers the key areas of quantum computing, secure communications, quantum simulations and quantum imaging and metrology. My team addresses the “scalability” problem – that is, how to optimise the use of current technologies to make larger and more powerful quantum information processors.

“QET Labs brings together a broad range of expertise in quantum technologies, with particular emphasis on applied quantum optics.”

I am interested in exploiting light-matter interaction mechanisms for the generation, manipulation and detection of single photons. Integrated photonic circuits (a fairly mature technology) can be used to perform all these tasks – but in order to do them efficiently, multiple trade-offs need to be met. The biggest challenge in this area is imposed by the best detector devices that must be kept at cryogenic temperatures; my team is currently exploring ways to improve the performance of single photon sources and phase-shifting devices at cryogenic temperatures.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: What influenced you to pursue quantum engineering and quantum information and when did you start your quantum journey?

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: As a student I was fascinated by the field of photonics and the perspective of developing real practical devices. At the start of my career I worked with quantum dots and other nanostructures, but it was not until 2012 that I discovered the true potential of quantum information. I then joined Bristol, enthused by the perspective of using my expertise in photonics to develop systems and devices that could process information at the quantum level.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: Quantum computing in itself can be said to be the child of applied physics. As an Applied Physicist, what is your comment on this?

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: Quantum computing is certainly an interdisciplinary field of research.

“Quantum computing is certainly an interdisciplinary field of research.”

Quantum information is in my opinion closer to mathematics, quantum optics to physics, and depending on the technological platform of choice for the realisation of a quantum computing system you may involve electronics, material science, chemistry and nanofabrication engineering. Beyond that point you may need to bring computer scientists to work on the algorithms and quantum programming languages and economists, biologists, meteorologists, etc. to use the computer in their discipline. Ultimately, we are developing a tool that exploits fundamental concepts and allows treating information in a completely new way.

Question from Nithyasri @SheQuantum: As an interdisciplinary researcher in quantum photonics, semiconductor physics, quantum engineering, chemical compounds and material science, how important do you think interdisciplinary learning is important for quantum computing?

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! The field of research is certainly interdisciplinary, and research teams do benefit from having a diverse expertise pool.

“This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! The field of research is certainly interdisciplinary, and research teams do benefit from having a diverse expertise pool.”

Nevertheless I do not think this is a strict requisite for the individual researcher. It is possible to do amazing research in very restricted areas of research as well as exploring the intersect of multiple disciplines.

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

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: No. Quantum technologies are no different than most other STEM areas. We lack diversity in multiple characteristics, with gender being probably the one that is closer to balance, but there is still plenty of work to do.

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 Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: There are multiple routes to a research career, although it is rare for researchers not to pursue a PhD. The conventional path includes a university degree. Researchers are fundamentally expected to apply the scientific method, supported by the mathematical techniques and scientific practices relevant to their discipline. These are the tools that a university education should provide, alongside with confidence in one’s skills and ability and the curiosity that motivates research questions. Regardless of gender, I would say that the main motivation for a research should be their own curiosity – not a career path, or an inspirational figure. Nevertheless, there is an obvious unbalance in the gender distribution (amongst many other characteristics) in some STEM fields.

“Regardless of gender, I would say that the main motivation for a research should be their own curiosity – not a career path, or an inspirational figure. Nevertheless, there is an obvious unbalance in the gender distribution (amongst many other characteristics) in some STEM fields.”

This is something that the community is aware of and trying to address, with partial success. My advice for women interested in starting a research career would be: “Do it; it might be harder than expected, but there will be opportunities for you. Concentrate first in developing your skills, only fools discriminate by gender when someone can solve their problems! You will find all sorts of colleagues, that does not mean you will have to work with some, but it will be good to learn to use your networks – this is part of any profession and should not be underestimated.

“Finally, seek inspiration in senior female role-models, most people in research are happy to support enthusiastic individuals (if they have time) and the best advice will come from those who can relate to your point of view.”

Finally, seek inspiration in senior female role-models, most people in research are happy to support enthusiastic individuals (if they have time) and the best advice will come from those who can relate to your point of view. “

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

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: Quantum Technologies are currently transitioning from an academic environment to a fully-fledged industrial development approach. This opens multiple avenues to join the field; it is now possible to contribute to the general progress with a very specialised background or skillets.

“Quantum Technologies are currently transitioning from an academic environment to a fully-fledged industrial development approach. This opens multiple avenues to join the field;”

This means that a more diverse group of quantum-enthusiasts can work together; the field is not restricted anymore to academic researchers with the traditional academic profile. Academia has been traditionally a very competitive environment, attractive to anyone with aspirations to pursue a career in research without the bounds of short- or mid-term profit. As a result, academics tend to have some similar traits, excluding the majority of the population. Despite the efforts of the community to be more inclusive, this is still an issue that is difficult to address. When this academic profile “filter” is removed, an increase of diversity is bound to happen. In summary, the more options, the better!

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

Answer from Dr Barreto, University of Bristol, UK: “Now is the time!”

“Now is the time!”

About Dr. Jorge Barreto

Dr. Jorge Barreto is a Senior Lecturer at the – School of Physics and Director of the; Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training; he is a member of the Quantum Engineering Technology Labs at University of Bristol, United Kingdom. As a Senior lecturer at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantum Engineering, Dr Barreto’s expertise spans applied physics and semiconductor technologies, with the interest in integration of photonic circuits with single photon detectors, modulators and sources to form photonic quantum information processors. A Physics graduate from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain, his PhD was on light-emission from silicon nanocrystals at the Barcelona Microelectronics Institute (CSIC). In 2009 he served in the University of Birmingham as a Research Fellow and worked on size-selected metallic nanoparticles, atomic-probe characterisation techniques and ultra-fast light-matter interaction processes in semiconductor nanostrctures. Dr Barreto joined the Quantum Photonics group in University of Bristol in 2012 as a Senior Research Associate and has been leading the effort in low temperature photonics since. In 2016 he became a Lecturer at the Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training. Dr. Barreto is an Applied Physics expert with several publications to his credits in the research field on Quantum Technologies and is a true inspiration for quantum research enthusiasts.

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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