Christiane Koch was involved in the coordination of the QUAINT project, which successfully stimulated, at a European level, the strategic research agenda of the quantum optimal control community. This coordination action still plays a central role in the emerging field of quantum technologies and is, up until now, unparalleled in the rest of the world.

Front-face profile Picture of Christiane Koch

When it comes to leveraging expertise in quantum control for quantum technologies, researchers at Harvard collaborate with European partners. Even big US companies like Google turn to European scientists: I know of at least two Google Research Awards that have been granted to former principal investigators of QUAINT.

The Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) project QUAINT , which ran between 2012 and 2015, has been a fundamental coordination action to harmonise the different sub-fields working on quantum optimal control in Europe. Quantum processes are currently crucial for many strategic technologies such as those at the very basis of magnetic resonance imaging, for example, or that underlie the performance of a quantum sensor or a quantum computer.

Christiane, what were the main objectives of the project?

The purpose of QUAINT was to bring the European quantum optimal control community together, by gathering different people from various fields in physics and physical chemistry. Quantum optimal control technique  is a set of methods that enables extremely accurate manipulation of quantum systems with minimal expenditure of energy. This ranges from imaging using Magnetic Resonance Tomography or Nuclear Magnetic Resonance applications also sensing of nuclear spins, all the way to quantum information processing where you optimise the performance of quantum devices, which at the time was of course at a much less mature stage than it is today.

One of the purposes, which I think the project achieved in a very nice way, was to develop synergies between these disjoint domains, identify similar problems and solutions. The barrier of language was quite severe and it still exists to some extent, but I think that the work of this project built the foundation for overcoming those barriers. In this sense, it was not a research project, but more a coordination action. There was not actually any money for doing research, but it was really for networking and identification of open and shared problems.

What are the outcomes of QUAINT of which you feel more proud?

From a personal perspective, two very important outcomes can be pointed out. One is that the community-building that emerged from QUAINT was a starting point for the current QuSCo project funded by the European Commission, which I am currently coordinating. It is a Marie Curie training network. About half of the participants were before participants in QUAINT and the reason why we were so successful in getting this project is because we built the collaboration and the knowledge in QUAINT.

The other one is the white paper published as a scientific paper in 2015, that has become the roadmap for the field of quantum control in Europe. In addition, the part of it regarding quantum information science and quantum technology is really now the part that defines the strategic research agenda concerning quantum control in quantum technologies.

What can the quantum control community offer to European citizens?

The quantum control community plays a central role in the emerging field of quantum technologies which will leverage quantum mechanical effects for every-day problems of European citizens, for example in medical imaging. The well-established and well-integrated quantum control community will be a key element in this field and will give a clear advantage to Europe.

What has been your experience with FET?

Thanks to FET programme, QUAINT has been a very, very useful project for the quantum control community in Europe and it came at the right time. It helped to shape the part of the community that now is playing an important role in the quantum technologies arena.

Let me emphasize this last point even more. The community building made possible by this coordination action has created a tightly interwoven professional network of researchers working in quantum control at the European level. I do not see the same level of community integration in, for example in the US. There are, of course, also US activities in quantum control but single players carry these out, so they simply do not achieve the same impact. When it comes to leveraging expertise in quantum control for quantum technologies, researchers at Harvard collaborate with European partners. Even big US companies like Google turn to European scientists: I know of at least two Google research awards that have been granted to former principal investigators of QUAINT.

Last question, more on a personal level: what has been the impact of QUAINT on your personal career?

It has definitely contributed to the visibility of my work at European level. At the beginning, I was just a principal investigator in the project, and then at some point, the consortium decided that we should have a deputy coordinator and they elected me to take up the job. In that role, I interacted with the European Commission, so I gained experience, which later was very, very useful. In addition, I gained further visibility in the overall European community. I think that being the deputy coordinator of QUAINT helped me enormously in the selection process for the steering committee of the strategic research-agenda working group for the European Quantum flagship.

Actually, the review of the midterm review was very helpful. In the beginning of the project, it was not entirely clear to everybody in the consortium what it means to have a coordination action, and why we were writing this white paper, and how we would interact with policymakers. However, this is really an important task of coordination, so it was definitely a learning experience, and the reviewers gave some extremely constructive guidance in this respect. So, that was an experience that I would not have had without this.

Background

FET-Open and FET-Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot.