Poem: Betelgeuse & his little brother


by Barbara Terhal

Barbara Terhal, faculty member at QuTech, wrote a poem about the tiny virus that holds the world in a firm grip these days, which we have printed below. We also invite anyone who has converted their thoughts in these unusual circumstances into poetry, to add their poems in the comment section at the bottom of this page.

Betelgeuse & his little brother

What if,
Now that the stocks are down
And the virus is up
Betelgeuse bursts
Like a balloon
Spewing hot radiation
Into space

Would we think that the small
And the large are connected?
Shaking hands across space

We can’t even see
The little copy machine
Crawling over us!

How wrong such interpretation

And still, how much we don’t know:
Blind, deaf and dumb towards the
Living creepy nanometer

Who knows proto-life ladders
All the way down to a few molecules
Mixing this or that way
Like those belches of Betelgeuse
Who also wish to become
In their impatient energetic strivings
Stable reproducible forms

They just shoot for the steady eons
rather than the unambitious span
of some human centuries

Cover picture: the star Betelgeuse in December 2019. Picture made using the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO/M. Montargès et al.).


Barbara Terhal is currently Professor at the EEMCS Department at the TU Delft and research staff member at QuTech. As a theorist she has been trying to get people to build quantum computers since her PhD in 1999 with mixed results so far.

Quarantine puzzle


The days get sunnier, yet the working from home continues. Some labs over the world are closed. At QuTech we have the luck that the labs stayed open, although the people in it disappeared. Monitoring measurements remotely and struggling with simulations is, also at QuTech, the new standard. With, of course, the now very well-known background noise of the video calls; people who are still on mute while talking, interesting background sounds and the frequency with which you can, or can’t hear someone with a failing internet connection (fun fact: the QuTech communications team even made a bingo card for everyone, containing the most-heard sentences in quantum video calls). The most interesting things we had so far were someone trying to fix his finances and stocks during a group meeting (and wasn’t muted), someone’s child breaking into a group meeting and someone’s pet chicken overtaking a whole meeting with its noise.

Yet more and more, we’re getting used to it. And a new normal requires new ways of keeping in touch and having fun together (one of the things I like of the video calls is that you get a sneak peak of someone’s home). That’s why the QuTech blog team organised a pub quiz for QuTech last Friday. It was a great success! The teams were competitive and we had a lot of fun with distributing the bonus points for best outfit and best background image. Of course, we don’t want to withheld you, therefore we made a puzzle out of the bonus questions of the quiz for you to think about during this long weekend.

In this puzzle you see nine tiles. Each tile cryptically describes a word that has something to do with quantum computers. You can fill in your answers in the answer card below (which also tells you how many letters an answer should have). If you fill it out correctly, you can read another word in the yellow tiles. A small note, a word like T2 would be spelled T-two and thus would occupy 5 tiles. Enjoy and good luck! The answers will be added to this post next week.

Continue reading Quarantine puzzle

Counting women in physics


by Floor van Riggelen

Take a close look at this famous picture. These are the people who attended the fifth Solvay International Conference (1927), where the leading physicists of that time discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. What stands out to me is that this is quite a homogeneous group: 28 white (including Jewish), middle aged guys, plus Marie Curie. Of course, these were different times. Comparing this to QuTech in Delft, the place where I work, (an example of a physics research environment in general) there are some improvements when it comes to diversity. Currently 23% of the QuTech employees are non-European and 17% percent are female, according to a recent official review [1]. However, a quick count on the QuTech webpage will tell you that if you only look at scientists and technical staff [2], this percentage drops to about 10%. At QuTech there are still several scientists who are the only woman in their research group. Looking at it in this way, it seems that not much has changed in almost 100 years of quantum physics. Continue reading Counting women in physics

Quantum Information Needs Protecting, and Here’s How to Do It


by Christophe Vuillot

Quantum physics is the strange and counterintuitive theory of physics governing the tiny world of atoms, electrons and photons. To access such small and ephemeral phenomena, scientists deploy advanced techniques to isolate and manipulate what can be destroyed by the tiniest breeze. Can they further protect these phenomena and make them survive to reach the scale of our life? This will be required to build a functional quantum computer. Continue reading Quantum Information Needs Protecting, and Here’s How to Do It

Happy Easter: looking for Quantum Eggs


It’s that time of the year again: the Easter Bunny comes by and hides his eggs. Everywhere you look he hid them: in the flower beds in the garden, underneath your bed, even if you open the cupboards, eggs come rolling out. Eggs in all kinds of clear colours and, if you’re lucky, made of chocolate.

But, over the past year, the Easter Bunny spent his time studying some quantum mechanics. He was inspired and decided to do something totally different this year. Instead of eggs, he hid some quantum terminology in the puzzle below. Can you find all the quantum eggs he hid?

Happy searching!

Can you find all the words?[1]

[1] This puzzle was made at WoordZoekerMaken.nl.
[2] The second ‘l’ in millikelvin got lost during the hiding…

Farewell, Editors Emeriti; Welcome, New Editors


Autumn (or Spring for our readers in the Southern hemisphere) is a time of change, and things are changing as well for Bits of Quantum. Editorial duties on this blog are performed on a volunteer basis by PhD students (in what little remains of their free time), and this means that any editor’s tenure is inherently limited by his or hers PhD track. This is why, with some sadness, we announce the departure of James and Suzanne, who have handed in their editorial powers to finish up their doctoral track. They were great members of the team and we would like to thank them for the time they have spent making this blog an amazing place for quantum computing.

Luckily change also brings renewal and we are very happy to announce that Bits Of Quantum has two new editors: Guan and Anne-Marije. They have been unofficially part of the team for a while now and we figured it was high time to formalize their editor-ship. Continue reading Farewell, Editors Emeriti; Welcome, New Editors

A Quantum Carol


by Helsen, Kroll, Rol and van Dam

The phone was ringing in the lab, Sophie let it ring a few times before looking up from her experiment. She was a bit annoyed until she realized what time it was, almost midnight and she had only just got the experiment running. She picked up the phone, half expecting to hear her advisor when she heard her mother’s voice:

“Sophie, we were worried about you, you didn’t pick up your phone and it has been almost four hours!”.

“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be right there, I just have to set up a measurement run overnight, otherwise the experiment will be doing nothing over Christmas!”

“But dear, like you said, it’s Christmas, you promised you’d be here! You know how Granny has been looking forward to seeing you.”

“OK, OK I’ll just start what I have now, but I still have to refill the traps. I’ll be there in 10 minutes”, she said as she hung up the phone.

As the nitrogen traps overflowed, a haze covered the floor and she started to feel a bit dizzy…

Continue reading A Quantum Carol