Where cutting-edge research tackles real-life problems – how a leap of faith led to work on a historical quantum computer

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VTT

When Dr Debopam Datta took on his new role as a research scientist at VTT in the beginning of 2020, he stepped into an entirely new situation, and not just because Finland would soon record its first cases of covid-19. In just a few months, in May 2020, VTT would announce its project to acquire a quantum computer, and Dr. Datta, an electrical engineer by training, would find himself working side-by-side with quantum physicists on the first quantum computer in Northern Europe. Read more about our research scientist Dr Datta’s experience at VTT and the opportunities VTT can offer!

Neither Finland nor quantum technologies were obvious choices for Dr Debopam Datta. Educated first in India in electrical and computer engineering and then completing his PhD in Chicago and a post-doc in California, Dr Datta seemed to be headed for a career in academia. So, what led him to VTT, and working on a crucial component of Finland’s quantum computer?

A perfect mix of academia and industry

“After my PhD I thought a lot about what the right career path for me would be. I didn’t want to go directly into academia early in my career. I wanted to be a researcher, but I always also wanted to have exposure to application-oriented research and industry,” Dr Datta explains.

As many of his peers chose jobs in large semiconductor manufacturing companies, he felt drawn to continue pursuing research. In 2018, Dr Datta accepted a role as Postdoctoral Scholar at the California Institute of Technology, where he worked on improving performance of superconducting quantum detector for cosmic microwave background detecting telescope. During his time at Caltech, he came to Finland for a conference, and met researchers from VTT and Aalto University. He listened to their presentations, read more of their work - and was impressed.

“VTT has an impressively long history in the field, and the research that is done here is truly cutting-edge. I was also excited by VTT’s multidisciplinary research areas. I am currently working on superconducting quantum-limited amplifiers useful for quantum sensing, communication and computation but wish to explore novel application of such devices more broadly,” Dr Datta explains.

VTT’s position in the middle of academia and industry has been a very good fit for my career aspirations.

From a career perspective, move from the United States to Europe felt like taking a leap of faith. But looking back now, Dr Datta says it has turned out to be an excellent decision. In his current role, he has been able to combine world-class research with practical real-life applications – something he felt wasn’t always possible in academia, where publishing often took precedence over more hands-on problem solving. 

“I guess VTT’s position in the middle of academia and industry has been a very good fit for my career aspirations. Additionally, working at VTT also turned out to be the perfect combination of career and family, and I’m really happy it happened when it did,” Dr Datta says.

pictureofdebopamdattainquantumlab

From pandemic isolation to working with a highly motivated team

While covid-19 did not pause work at VTT’s labs, it had an impact on Dr Datta’s first year on the job. When opportunities for spontaneous coffees, discussions, and brainstorming were limited due to covid-19, he felt that an important part of the job – learning from colleagues – was thwarted. 

This is a great environment to grow as a researcher.

Now that in-person work has resumed, and he has got to enjoy a few months of working face to face with his team, Dr Datta talks about his colleagues with genuine excitement:

“The team itself is young and dynamic, and so are the people in the team. It’s a very motivating environment with lots of ideas, discussion, and motivation. My manager is also supportive and understands my psyche as a developing researcher. This is a great environment to grow as a researcher.”

He also appreciates working with people from different backgrounds. As an emerging field, quantum technologies benefit from a unique combination of expertise, which also creates opportunities to learn and innovate.

“The people I work closest with are very enthusiastic. I am not a physicist myself, so there is a lot to learn from my colleagues. Luckily, they have a lot of experience and collaboration with them allows effective flow of new ideas and helps me to develop my own knowledge base and understanding of these advanced topics. “

Two reasons that make VTT a good place for a researcher

1.    It is a great place to research and develop cutting-edge and futuristic technologies, and see their applications.
2.    At VTT you can have a good work-life balance without compromising on the level of research you do.

A healthy work environment

In addition to the support he has received from his team, Dr Datta says that he has been grateful to receive a lot of help from his employer, both upon arrival and during the pandemic.

“I got a lot of help from VTT with settling into Finland and taking care of the administrative side of moving to a new country. They have also arranged training in project management, language classes, and more.”

Another positive experience has been adjusting to VTT’s working culture. According to Dr Datta, in his team, work-life balance is taken seriously, and the atmosphere is open and supportive.

“When I see my colleagues have good routines and work culture, it also motivates me to find a healthy way of working and a good balance between work and family.”

Hopes for the future

When asked about his future aspirations, Dr Datta has an answer ready. 

“While I find work on applied research very enriching, I still also hope to be working in an academic role in the future. I am happy that VTT has a strong connection to universities, and I know that many people at VTT also work in academia, teaching and holding docent positions. Personally, I am especially intrigued by VTT’s research professor positions, which would probably be my dream position at some point in my career.” 

I am interested in how we can bring the future opportunities of quantum technologies closer to people and into daily lives.

His professional aspirations are also fuelled by the drive to see technologies reach new levels and make a difference in the society. The first goal – of course – is to witness a quantum computer that can solve actual problems.

“I am interested in how we can bring the future opportunities of quantum technologies closer to people and into daily lives. For instance, in social scientific research there are many questions that require more computing power to be solved. I hope to see a major contribution from quantum technologies in solving some of the greatest challenges of current times.”

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Debopam Datta

Debopam Datta

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