03 Career
05 Talent
17 June 2024Sonja Knols

Quantum Delta NL Award 2024 goes to Gunter Helms

At the latest Nodes of One Network event, Gunter Helms, project manager and teacher at the Leidse instrumentmakers School (LiS) and education officer for the QDNL Talent & Learning Center Delft/Leiden was presented with the second ever Quantum Delta NL Award. He received this accolade for his tireless efforts to involve vocational institutes in quantum technology.

Thank you, Gunter!

With the award, Quantum Delta NL recognizes and honors people who have made exceptional contributions to the growth and fortification of the quantum technology ecosystem. The winner is asked to express their wish for the community. Quantum Delta NL commits its support to collaborate on realizing this wish.

Driving force

Miriam Blaauboer (former Coordinator of QDNL’s Actionline on Human Capital) and Pieter de Witte (Director Research Programmes & IP) are clear when asked about the reasons why Gunter Helms is the recipient of this year’s award: ‘Gunter has been the driving force for developing a specialization on instrument making for quantum technology applications for vocational college students – a specialization that is unique in the Netherlands and maybe even Europe.’

In an interview, the laureate elaborates on his work and his passion to better connect vocational education to the high-tech sector – with quantum technology as its flagship.

‘At the Leidse instrumentmakers School, I have been teaching electrical engineering including the physics side of it, programming and automation. Our school is an initiative of Nobel Prize laureate Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, who was looking for people who could develop practical instruments to test his theoretical ideas. So, ever since our inception, we have been tightly connected to fundamental research. When Leiden University and Leiden University of Applied Sciences started discussing how to establish links to vocational institutes, LiS was their natural partner. Since I had a solid background in digitalization and automation, I could make the connection to quantum technology quite easily. As a result, since 2021 I have been involved in Quantum Delta NL as a project manager and educational officer for the Talent & Learning Center Delft/Leiden.’

Introduction to enabling technologies

Ever since he started taking part in the programme, Gunter has taken up a national role to actively involve vocational institutes in education about enabling technologies. ‘We first took stock of the types of topics that are of interest for quantum technology and high tech in general. Then we started organizing workshops to introduce students into themes like working in a cleanroom, optical engineering, vacuum techniques, designing vibration-free instruments and cryogenics.’ These types of topics are not only of interest for quantum technology, but are broadly applicable in a variety of industries, ranging from food production, biosciences and medical environments, to chip production and space technology, Gunter explains. ‘We show our students what these sectors require in terms of precision mechanics, electronics and software.’

The workshops are also used to demonstrate to other vocational institutes and companies how the future workforce could be trained to fit the needs of industry. Gunter: ‘In my conversations with vocational institutes, I often notice they experience barriers when it comes to educating people for the high-tech sector. But the ASMLs of this world are yearning for skilled staff to man their production facilities. LiS alone cannot meet this demand. With Quantum Delta NL, we have a national podium to spread the word that high tech can greatly benefit from the talents of vocational students. And the other way around: that vocational institutes have a role to play in educating the workforce for this sector. The Netherlands experience large deficits when it comes to hands on technicians. We need to take action urgently. Therefore, my “genie in a bottle wish” for the community is that we will help change the perspective that high tech and quantum technology are not for vocational students.’

Make the connection

In his work at LiS and the Talent & Learning Centre, Gunter likes to connect people from different backgrounds on practical assignments, he says. ‘We are always looking for internships or R&D projects where our students can gain hands on experience.’ Roughly, there are three different types of projects the vocational students are working on, he explains. ‘We have our production- and research-internships, where our students join a company for a certain period of time. In addition to that, we offer group projects, where a group of students collectively tackle a problem, make a design based on the best solution and produce (a prototype of) equipment. And finally, we have tandem projects, where HBO (or WO) and MBO students work together in a multidisciplinary team with representatives of certain companies on a design and the production of a system, just like development works in real life. For example, several groups of students have designed and built demonstration models that are now used in Quantum Rules labs for MBO, HAVO and VWO students to experiment with, like the single photon filter box. MBO and HBO students together also developed different parts of  a Stern-Gerlach experiment. These tandem projects are a great way of bringing together theory, scalability and manufacturability.’

Involving industry

Gunter goes the extra mile to engage companies in all of his activities. ‘Our aim is to bring together the entire chain of education, ranging from secondary schools to life-long learning groups, with industry. So, for example, we invite companies to join our open days, and engage in a dedicated quantum technology corner.’ It is his personal ambition to bring together talent and companies and spread the word that quantum technology is relevant for the entire educational system. ‘I want to show people the applications that are of relevance for them, and help companies find the talent they so desperately need. As soon as quantum technology comes out of the lab and enters the real world, we need technicians with practical skills to fill in the required production and maintenance capacity.’

Nominate for the 2025 award

Nominations for the 2025 award are now open! We invite you all to nominate individual(s) that you think deserve this award. Let's collectively honor those who make a difference.

Importantly, we welcome nominations, irrespective of professional backgrounds. Also, you can nominate several people who work on the same initiative who you think should jointly deserve the award.

Send in your nomination by sending an email to info@quantumdelta.nl with: 

  • Name(s) of your nominee(s) 

  • Their main affiliation 

  • Reason for nomination

Deadline for nominations: Before March, 2025. 

The Quantum Delta NL board will carefully review the nominations, paying special attention to those who receive widespread acknowledgment from the community. 

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