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QuSoft has a new director

We would like to congratulate Christian Schaffner for being appointed co-director of QuSoft, next to Harry Buhrman, and to thank wholeheartedly our former co-director Kareljan Schoutens for the many years of work which shaped our research center into the success that it currently is. In this Q&A, Kareljan and Christian talk about this moment of change, the past and future of their engagement within QuSoft.


Dear Kareljan, could you tell us more about your decision to leave your leading role as co-director of QuSoft and what are your plans for the coming period?

K. Every seventh year, the University of Amsterdam gives the opportunity to permanent academic staff to take a sabbatical period aimed at collecting new ideas and inspirations for one’s research. I have taken the opportunity before and it has worked very well, therefore I decided to engage in a new sabbatical leave, in this year’s fall semester. I have covered the role of co-director of QuSoft for almost eight years, since the start of the center, and I think this is a good and natural moment to make room for somebody younger than me. I’m very happy that Christian will take over my role in the QuSoft leadership.

In the common perception a sabbatical period is seen as a very meditative and relaxing time, but I have heard that you have many appointments which make it seem a very busy period. Could you share something about what you will be doing?

K. During the sabbatical period I will not teach and do less administrational tasks but I will still work on my research projects and I am free to travel to other places to do my research elsewhere. I have already made two trips to the US, I will go to Ireland next and finally I will spend about 2 months in Oxford.

Christian could you tell us about your relationship with QuSoft and how you two met?

C. I have been here since the start of QuSoft in 2015. I came to Amsterdam 16 years ago as a postdoc in Harry’s group in the temporary portacabins outside of the main CWI building. I have been at the UvA for about 12 years now and around QuSoft since when it was founded. I always thought about it as a fun crowd of people to be around, and now the crowd has grown quite a bit! During this period our network organization Quantum.Amsterdam was founded as well, a bit before the Quantum Delta NL program started. Since I came back from my sabbatical in Berkeley, I have been chairing Quantum.Amsterdam. So I think that becoming co-director of QuSoft now is a nice follow-up step.

K. It is interesting to know that for some time we have been sharing an office at CWI!

Kareljan is a theoretical physicist and Christian a mathematician turned computer scientist. Will the difference of expertise between the two of you bring a change in terms of scientific culture at QuSoft?

C. I believe not much will change. People have the freedom to do their research and no policy will be installed to change that. It is a good idea to continue what has been set up by Kareljan and Harry. In general it feels hard to fill the shoes of someone like Kareljan who has been the dean of the Faculty of Science of the UvA and is a person who is very well connected within and around the academic environment. This will be quite a challenge, but luckily, he is not going to disappear nor retire soon.

K. The main job for the people leading QuSoft has been to enable collaboration. People from different backgrounds and working at the different corners of the University and the CWI come together and share interactions, follow seminars togethers, have social occasions and together they achieve something special that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It has been my main intention to make sure that this collaboration would go as well as possible.

In this sense, Kareljan, do you have an advice for Christian?

K. The spirit of collaboration is the best thing about QuSoft and my advice is to keep this going. Our subject matter is very much in development. There are many colleagues who can contribute and many students who want to learn and follow our study programs and become part of the research efforts.

Kareljan, what would be one or two things that you would have liked to do but you didn’t get to do during this period and that you would hope to see accomplished in the future.

K. There are two important things that are in the planning but didn’t happen yet. Our new building dedicated to quantum, for now called LabQ, and the new master program in Quantum Computer Science (QuCS), which is waiting for the green light to start next academic year. I am looking forward to seeing these things take shape in the future.

QuSoft has widened even more the scope of its research. In 2023 two professors from Chemistry have joined QuSoft, I am wondering, Christian, how do you envision creating bigger collaborations? Do you have already some perspectives of what you would like to do in this sense?

C. We are very happy that the chemists are on board now. One more institute of the faculty of science which is now part of QuSoft. There is now also a postdoc who is going to start very soon, via the Quantum Delta NL program. So now this collaboration is very concrete. In this area I think we can still expand. Quantum simulation is the most promising application of quantum computing. It would be nice to have a more permanent researcher hired in this area. I hope that there will be more collaborations with computer science and chemistry, it would make sense to strengthen these ties.

We have now focused on the more academic aspects, even though one of your historical roles, Christian, has been to be leading Quantum.Amsterdam since the start. I am wondering what are your perspective and feelings about how things are going with the business side and how is QuSoft positioned.

C. Quantum Delta NL and its Amsterdam hub Quantum.Amsterdam has done excellent work so far, in only three years of the program. Its goal is to build an ecosystem around quantum technology research in the Netherlands and also particularly in Amsterdam. The fact that that QuSoft has a collaboration with IBM, for example, is a sign that things are working out. We have set up the Quantum Application Lab (QAL) to work with partners in industry. The aim is to increase collaborations and try to continue and expand in the direction of business. For the next 4 years at least there will be Quantum Delta NL and we are currently making plans for its phase 3, so I am quite positive about the growth of the ecosystem.

In the context of Quantum Delta how would you like to see QuSoft positioned? Is there something that you would like to change?

C. I am very happy with what we have achieved in Amsterdam. We are currently one of the big nodes in the Netherlands, in particular in quantum software and applications but also in quantum sensing and with Quantum.Amsterdam. Koen Groenland has been a very active force in creating connections with public administrations and companies. I think this is where a lot of other hubs look at us to see how this is done, we are all very happy of how things are going.

K. For the next years I will keep my role in the supervisory board of Quantum Delta NL, and I will stay closely involved with all the people at QuSoft!

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