Running Quantum Experiments From Day One: a Fresh POV for Lab Managers
Like many of you, I have spent many years in a lab. I was the only Ph.D. student in a newly formed experimental group on quantum photonics, and I am guessing you know what that means. I spent my Ph.D. time building a 1M€ optics lab to work with quantum control of dots at cryogenic temperatures.
Don’t get me wrong, they were fun times, playing with crazy equipment and making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. I had fun with cryo-problems, lasers, and stuff. I made the lab my own way, except I was not allowed to install a coffee machine, as my supervisor feared I would never leave our windowless underground lab.
YOU BUY EQUIPMENT – YOU MAKE IT WORK
As you can imagine, I bought countless pieces of equipment and invited an innumerable amount of company representatives and technicians to install products. That’s the way we used to do it. Want to build a setup for a specific experiment or technique? You start by drawing your design, choose the right specs, do some market research, and finally buy a bunch of products. Each vendor will either ship a box or come to install the single thing you bought from them. Imagine how difficult it is to set up complex quantum control systems like this. On top of this, I used to look at fancy NV center qubits’ papers and think “how did they manage to build such a complex system? Will we ever manage here?”
If there is anything I learned from going through this process many times, it’s that you, the manager of the lab, are the only one responsible for what happens when a combination of instruments works or fails. It’s an annoying way to work, particularly when there are few experienced members in the group. But I always thought this was the only way to go. The people you buy components from are not physicists with experience in your field, so how can they help in anything more than what they sell? “You want to build a NV center qubit control system? What’s a qubit?” Well, my perception of this issue changed suddenly and completely after joining Quantum Machines.
INSTALLING AN OPX, THEN WHAT?
It’s common in Quantum Machines for new employees to join a customer visit. That’s where this story begins.
During my first trip to install QM gear in a customer’s lab, we started like any other company in my experience: open a box and make sure you know what and where to plug things. Everything sounded like business as usual to me, with one exception. I did not know why we were supposed to be there for days. Even a newbie like me knows an OPX takes less than 10 minutes to install.
Sure enough, the actual installation only lasted a few minutes. It’s what came after that blew me away. After the installation, my QM colleague, Elisha, turned to our customer and said: “It’s all set. What experiment do we run now?”
I stood there dumbfounded for a few minutes before realizing what we were there for. Installing our product was never the primary goal of our visit to the customer’s lab. Any of the students could have managed it just fine. We traveled there to run experiments! The experimentalist in me was awoken, and boy was I happy! That is when I realized the trip would be a lot more fun than I thought.
RESULTS FROM DAY ONE
I felt like I had teleported back to the last year of my Ph.D. when we effectively joined the lab’s team in running the experiment they just happened to run that week. We discussed physics (superconducting but also quantum photonics), fought the coffee machine together, complained about the cafeteria, troubleshot problems, and wrote code as a team.
I was no expert, and I was there to learn, so I felt a little like a student on his first day. My colleague Elisha, however, seemed right in his comfort zone. It was his field, after all. Results started flowing from day one, smoothly and steadily between one espresso and the next.
We left after three days, a little sad we could not stay longer. We managed to get some nice results and wrote some code they could reuse for future experiments. Elisha ensured all the people involved knew what they could do with QM’s Quantum Orchestration Platform and what the next experiment would look like in practice. So, we felt we could leave them to have fun on their own with their fresh and advanced quantum control capabilities.
It was the very first time I had experienced something like this. This was not the usual company with spec sheets and big words. “This company,” – I thought, “does not just sell products. That’s not what Quantum Machines is about. We empower quantum research”.
Now, that is cool. That is something I can get behind.
FOLLOW UP AND BUILD UP
Not long after my visit, Quantum Machines surprised me again. This time the culprit was QM’s customer support. I learned that our team has multiple follow-ups with customers and even has a Discord channel with each lab. Researchers share their incredible progress with the OPX and ask for help when something comes up. We never lose that feeling of being part of the team. We’re there for our customers from installation and onwards, and that’s just how we like it.
I realized the unique position that we are in at Quantum Machines. Our teams comprise physicists from all sorts of backgrounds in quantum control, from superconducting qubits to NV centers, all the way from atoms and ions to photonics quantum computing and quantum dots. Hearing about experiments actually makes us happy. From our perspective, it’s not just customer support but rather fun problems to solve or astounding results to be proud of. We are still physicists, after all.
Looking back, I could not fathom what my Ph.D. would have looked like if I had Quantum Machines’ support. I am proud and happy to have changed my mindset about building a lab and implementing complex experiments. I realized buying just components is not the only way. It is not even the best way.
You can and should find people to help out in your research. Experts who are interested in your success. Because, as I like to say, success is neither given nor found; it is orchestrated.