Jointly into the quantum future: ‘A crucial role for education and science communication’

The second quantum revolution is in full swing, bringing all kinds of new technologies to within reach, and offering many opportunities as well as challenges. Leiden and Delft decided to join forces – not only in research, but also in education and connecting to society. Miriam Blaauboer and Julia Cramer explain why this is crucial.

Cramer started her quantum journey in Delft (with Blaauboer as one of her lecturers) and currently works in Leiden. For Blaauboer it is the other way around. Both researchers therefore have a strong connection with the two cities.

Julia & Miriam

When it comes to quantum, many people think about building a quantum computer. But your contribution goes beyond that. Can you tell a bit more?

Blaauboer: ‘I do research and I teach. I very much like teaching, it is pure joy to see someone suddenly grasping a concept being taught. And when the new master programme on quantum was being initiated – a joint programme between Delft and Leiden – they asked me to spearhead it. The programme has since started with an enthusiastic team of lecturers and educational specialists, with expertise beyond the disciplines. The multidisciplinary character of the programme means that I depend on experts in various disciplines, and that we must collaborate closely.’

   Being one of the few women in quantum research made me realise that I can make a difference for newcomers'

Cramer: ‘During my bachelor’s, I had made a YouTube video on quantum for a certain research practicum. But when I wanted to do science communication research into quantum, after having obtained my PhD in experimental quantum physics, they found it too niche a topic. Luckily for me, funding of the Quantum Delta NL growth fund emphasised the significance of quantum, making it possible after all. I am very grateful to the people who supported me in my somewhat wild ideas and that made me feel part of it all. By the way, you have been one of these people, Miriam.’

Blaauboer: ‘I’m so glad to hear that. Everybody needs role models. And in my time, there weren’t many. Being one of the few women in quantum research made me realise that I can make a difference for newcomers. Student numbers of the new master programme are on the rise, and it is important for everyone to feel welcome.’

Erasmus Descartes conferentie

What makes your work important, especially now?

Cramer: ‘The societal aspects of quantum have grown to become a very important field of study. In just a few years’ time, my research has shifted from what resembled a hobby to being an established discipline. You can have a real impact, making it ever so important to do it thoroughly. Education is very important as we must continue to facilitate this rise.’

Blaauboer: ‘Exactly. My colleagues and I have been given the opportunity to pioneer education in quantum technology. A few years ago, this master programme wouldn’t have attracted enough students. But now, interest is surging. It is wonderful to be living at a time where this technology makes its way into education and society. I can both contribute and learn a lot.’

What impact would you like to have on the field?

quantumBlaauboer: ‘My main hope is for the entire knowledge chain to become more interconnected, from secondary vocational education to universities of applied sciences, to academic universities. There is a surge in new quantum-focused companies, and they need staffing. The growth fund makes this interconnection possible.’

Cramer: ‘I would like to enhance the connection with society. From both a democratic and a commercial standpoint, it is important for us to reach out and determine people’s expectations of this technology. New ideas, however fantastic, don’t stand a chance if not supported. This is true for all new technologies, so I hope we can learn some valuable lessons for the future. Taking legal, societal and ethical implications into account is an essential part of any new technology.’

   Taking legal, societal and ethical implications into account is an essential part of any new technology’

Blaauboer: ‘This is where the two of us connect. It was a deliberate decision to have ethics be integrated into the new master from the start. For the entire duration of the programme, students will reflect on the impact of new quantum technologies on society as well as their own role. With developments going lightning fast, education and communication are crucial.’

Miriam Blaauboer is associate professor in the department of Quantum Nanoscience at TU Delft. She also is Director of Studies of the Quantum Information Science & Technology master programme – a collaboration between TU Delft and Leiden University.

Julia Cramer is a quantum physicist, researcher in the field of science communication, and passionate about the intersection between fundamental science and society. She leads the Quantum & Society research group at Leiden University.

More information:
Quantum Delta NL
Quantum Delft
Quantum Leiden
QuTech (TU Delft en TNO)
Casimir Research School

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