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“Have the tenacity and believe in your progress" – Studying quantum, the field of the future, now

Vivian Phan is a recent BSc graduate of Aalto University’s Quantum Technology studies and currently working as part of the Micro and Quantum Systems research group. She shares what it’s like to build a career in a field that’s new and will most likely have its biggest impact years or decades from now.
Vivian Phan leaning on a grey wall

The appeal of being a forerunner

Barely 100 years old, the field of quantum science and technology has become increasingly impactful in the last couple of decades and is currently emerging as one of the major disruptors of the coming years. There’s much hype surrounding it, but there is also a lot of dedicated hard-work and pioneering vision making up the field. Finland has been a robust player in many areas of quantum studies for decades. In 2019, Aalto was one of the first Finnish institutes of higher education to provide the opportunity to study quantum technology. Vivian Phan, then a student of computer science, saw both the challenge and the appeal of quantum. It didn’t take long for her to decide on applying.

“For me the draw was the novelty and the fact that it wasn’t as saturated compared to many other fields. It is hyped to be the next big thing, so I wanted to catch on to the trend early,” Phan says.

Normally, the study of quantum technology at Aalto features a lot of work at labs and other facilities that house the relevant equipment. However, the class of 2019, with the onset of COVID-19, would transition to remote learning like most other students. Vivian Phan says she thrived in that environment.

“It was all online, and lab experimentation was done with having an assistant do the experiment and letting us students know the results. We would then analyse it remotely. Thankfully, I found that remote learning works perfectly for me. My experience will likely be different from those starting their studies now.”

Quantum physics is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. Anyone can do it if they really try, and the rewards are worth it

Vivian Phan

Finding your niche

The degree allowed for students to study their preferred subfield of quantum technology. The field is incredibly broad, with scientists working on topics such as optics, superconductors, and cryptography. Vivian Phan gravitated towards quantum computing, which is the study and development of software and algorithms for quantum computers, a new type of computer promising calculational power far beyond conventional computing.

“I knew already at the beginning I was keen on the computational side of things. The study programme was such that you didn’t have to everything but could focus on what you found interesting and what you were good at,” Phan describes.

Building a career of the future now

In Finland, the nascent commercial industry around quantum technology is emerging with companies like IQM, Blufors, and Algorithmiq. There is much research and development to be done, and the science might take surprising turns. For Vivian Phan, this is both a blessing and a curse.

“In a field that so new and moving so rapidly you are taking a chance by becoming involved so early on. So, you just have to stick your neck out and see what opportunities become available. There’s uncertainty, but the studies also gave me an incredibly solid foundation in mathematics and physics in addition to everything else,” Vivian Phan says.

Aalto University Quantum Explorations Exhibition. Photo: Mikko Raskinen.
Quantum technology is a broad field that will have most of its impact decades from now. Photo by Mikko Raskinen/Aalto University.

After graduating with her BSc in Quantum Technology, Vivian Phan is focused on finishing her M.Sc. and applying everything she knows about quantum computing in her work at the Micro and Quantum Systems research group at Aalto.

“Now in my work we’re looking at making varitional algorithms work with quantum computers that are noisy, meaning they have interference. This is crucial since we don’t have an entirely fault-resistant machine yet. Essentially, we’re trying to find out what the current machines we do have are capable of doing by using very limited resources. We’re working with a hybrid algorithm, which is one-part conventional computing and one-part quantum, so that they complement each other.”

The rewards are worth it

Vivian Phan admits that the path to her position was far from unchallenging. There is an air of mystique surrounding everything quantum, and Vivian says that people tend to raise their eyebrows when she mentions what she does. For future students, Vivian offers words of encouragement.

“Have the tenacity and believe in your study progress. Quantum physics is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. Anyone can do it if they really try, and the rewards are worth it,” Phan says.

Aalto University continues to offer education in quantum science and technology on the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degree levels. The university’s quantum activities are coordinated by Finland’s quantum institute, InstituteQ - a collaboration between Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and VTT.

InstituteQ. Photo: Jorden Senior.

InstituteQ – The Finnish Quantum Institute

InstituteQ coordinates quantum technology research, education and innovation across Finland

Research & Art
White InstituteQ logo on dark background

InstituteQ - The Finnish Quantum Institute (external link)

InstituteQ coordinates quantum research, education, and business in Finland

Kvanttibitit. Kuva: Jan Goetz.

OtaNano

OtaNano is Finland's national research infrastructure for micro-, nano-, and quantum technologies

Aalto University / two students working together in a co-working space / photography Aino Huovio

Quantum Technology, Bachelor of Science (Technology), Master of Science (Technology)

Are you fascinated by quantum physics? Do you want to create real-world applications? Come study Quantum Technology at Aalto University! The Quantum Technology major takes you to the forefront of the ongoing quantum revolution in computation, communication, sensing, and simulation.

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