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Dr. Philippe Bouyer (53) will become the newest coordinator of the CAT-3 program of Quantum Delta NL on June 1, 2022. In the interview below, he elaborates on his expected role and looks back on his career so far, as well as looking ahead to the future.
As a student, he dreamed of becoming a pilot, but chose physics instead. And with success. His scientific escapades have taken him on a journey from Paris to Stanford and Bordeaux. He just finished his 10-year mandate as director of the Laboratory for Photonics, Digital and Nano Sciences at CNRS/IOGS, Université Bordeaux and is currently Deputy Manager of the Institute d’Optique (Nouvelle Aquitaine branch) and Director for Innovation.
But in addition to being a scientist, he is also an entrepreneur. Together with Arnaud Landragin and Bruno Desruelle, he founded the company MUQUANS (now IXBLUE), the only one in the world to commercialize such sensors. The French firm has sold a dozen units to date, primarily to geophysical research institutes. One of its measuring instruments was even installed on top of Mount Etna as part of the Newton-g European project, in order to monitor magma movement with the ultimate goal of connecting it to the volcano’s activity, and one day anticipating its eruptions.
The common thread between all these jobs? “I love building things,” he says. “Most of my career choices were driven by curiosity and the desire to try new experiences – a natural trait for an experimental physicist. And that has never changed: I still like to build experiments, teams and companies, from almost scratch and develop it into something sustainable.”
That’s why he also chose Quantum Delta NL. “For the last ten years I have been the director of the Photonics, Digital and Nanosciences Laboratory. These years have been a tremendous adventure. Starting “from a blank sheet of paper”, we have built a laboratory that hosts up to 100 researchers, teachers, PhD students, post-doctoral students, and is involved in research programs at the international level on gravitational waves, quantum sensors, biomedical imaging, simulation of materials and their appearance. I am very proud of what we have achieved, but I also needed a new challenge. And then Quantum Delta NL – along with other international organizations – came my way.”
Why did you ultimately choose Quantum Delta NL?
“First of all, because of the CAT-3 program. In CAT-3, companies and knowledge institutions work together to develop the technology and applications of quantum sensing. I share the vision that we need to collaborate and build bridges to make quantum magic possible. In addition, QDNL was founded with the goal of changing the paradigm of quantum technology. There is a strong community looking at all aspects and opportunities of quantum technology and that is eager to work together to take quantum technology to the next level. It’s exciting to be a part of that.”
And then your wife is also Dutch…?
“Yes, That also played a very important role of course. She went to France as a student thirty years ago, as part of one of the first Erasmus program. We have lived in France and the U.S., but never in the Netherlands. I am looking forward to having that opportunity now. Especially since our daughter is also studying and working here.”
You will be the coordinator of the CAT-3 program, what will you focus on?
“I think that’s a tricky question at this point, because I still need a deep dive into the Dutch ecosystem. But ultimately, I think it’s all about working together and building bridges. Within CAT 3, a lot of different teams work on different aspects of quantum sensing. They are all interconnected, also with the other programs and action lines of Quantum Delta NL. The role of the coordinator is to keep in mind this connection and by doing so, hopefully some good ideas will emerge that will really make a difference on the quantum worldstage.”
From all the things you’ve done: what are the most important lessons you bring to Quantum Delta NL?
“The first lesson is to accept that what you get is never what you expected beforehand. You need to be flexible, and adapt and evolve, also in managing teams and programs. You have to be motivated, ready to learn and go out of your “comfort zone”: the game is worth the effort. The second lesson is that nothing is impossible. Even if you want to start something that seems completely unrealistic, just start and do it. That’s something I really learned from the time I spent in the US. Quantum physics, and more generally quantum technology research, is a demanding field that requires a lot of technical and scientific skills and is sometimes frustrating because one would like to move forward faster. But those who believe in it move the technology forward.”
How do you see the future for quantum technology and Quantum Delta NL?
“On the one hand the field of quantum technology is very broad, on the other hand it’s very focused. The most promising part of quantum technology is still the development of the quantum computer, but also quantum sensors are becoming more and more mature. And we are beginning to see more and more applications such as navigation without GPS, underground prospecting without the need for drilling, predicting disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. So we’re moving in a direction where quantum technology can begin to compete with existing technologies and we need a highly focused community to cash in on this promise. Quantum Delta NL is that community. It’s really built with the objective to change the paradigm of quantum technology, by looking at all aspects of the technology, not only the quantum computer. That is the best way to create momentum for innovation.”
Finally: you are very passionate about quantum technology. What else are you passionate about?
“Besides flying small planes and kite surfing? Cooking! Perhaps this is completely obvious for a Frenchman, but I love good food and have also followed some cooking courses. When I’m stressed, or overwhelmed by the pressure of thinking about quantum technology in the broadest sense, I invite some people home and cook something for them. It always works.”