22 September 2021 Jeanne Perreault
Graduate portrait – Frédéric Nolet

Driven by excellence

Frédéric Nolet

Photo : Fournie

Before starting a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Frédéric hesitated; he was also tempted by teaching. Science projects at CEGEP convinced him that engineering was the right program and that project-based learning better suited his personality, so he chose the Université de Sherbrooke.

At the end of his bachelor’s degree, he decided to pursue graduate studies. His need to learn is still very present. A friend suggested that he meet with Professor Jean-François Pratte.

“I was told that he was looking for motivated students, which was my case. I met someone who was passionate about research and medical imaging and I told myself that I would try. I went into this without any experience, without necessarily knowing this world. I broadened my horizons, including making integrated circuits, which I had never done before.”

Graduate studies          

At the master’s level, Frédéric cultivated his interest in research. He joined the Groupe de recherche en appareillage médical de Sherbrooke (GRAMS), which aims to use electronics and microelectronics to develop medical and particle physics instrumentation. In medical imaging, temporal precision allows to better locate where an event takes place in the body. This precision allows for a better image and, consequently, a better diagnosis in the field of oncology, which increases the chances of a cure.

Prof. Pratte challenged Frédéric to design the most time-accurate photon detectors in the world (the most accurate is 20 picoseconds) and to achieve a detection time of less than 10 picoseconds. “In my master’s project, we managed to have the best detection time in the world, but at 13 picoseconds, we hadn’t reached the final goal, which prompted me to pursue a PhD,” explains Frederic.

A picosecond (ps) is a unit of time measurement used by scientists, equivalent to 1 trillionth [10−12] of the duration of a conventional second.

For him, achieving excellence is both a challenge and a tremendous source of motivation.

The goal of the research was to obtain the most accurate measurement of the intersection of two photons. Current medical imaging provides a visual in about 30 minutes, and it is by improving temporal accuracy that real-time imaging could emerge.

In 2016, when foreign researchers had already reduced the detection time to 20 ps, Frederic’s team achieved 13 ps, a notable result compared to the initial goal of 10 ps. Finally, in 2018, the team improves the detection speed to 8 ps. By contributing to this group, Frederic says he has learned a lot. It was the completion of this project that prompted him to continue his research, this time as a postdoctoral fellow.

Moving into quantum sciences

All these contacts and new skills offered the researcher a real professional springboard. At the same time, Frédéric became interested in the work of the Institut quantique following a presentation by the student committee led by Julien Camirand Lemyre. This encounter guided the rest of his research career, since he is now interested in electronics for the quantum computer.

What his director thinks

Prof. Jean-François Pratte spoke eloquently about Frédéric Nolet’s involvement in his research group :

“Frédéric is a young researcher who works hard and is driven by excellence, who likes challenges and does not let himself be scared. The numbers speak for themselves: 18 peer-reviewed papers, 5 of which were first author, 36 conference presentations, 15 of which were first author, and the realization of 7 integrated circuits as lead designer and collaborator on 3 others. In comparison, a PhD student will do between 1 and 3. Moreover, Frédéric is an excellent collaborator, which makes him an outstanding teammate. He dreams of becoming a professor-researcher and it shows in the passion he has for sharing his knowledge with his colleagues. I define my work as a catalyst for the development of students, whether in my undergraduate program or in my research team. Frédéric has been able to constantly push my “boundary conditions”.  I can say without hesitation that he is the perfect example of the student who exceeds the skills of the master, to my great delight. My mission is accomplished. The quality of our relationship and the ease with which we communicate creates very rich and stimulating interactions. My door has always been opened to discuss with him and will be for the rest of his career. I sincerely wish him the greatest success. He is cut out to be a professor: to be an outstanding mentor and a world-class scientist.”

What is next

Frédéric says he doesn’t want to look too far into the future. His interest in teaching persists, but research opportunities will take him elsewhere for a while. Frédéric will begin his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Sydney with Prof. David Riley, who works with Microsoft. The current pandemic makes international travel somewhat difficult, so he hopes to be able to travel to Australia. His research will focus on quantum electronic circuits, at the interface of his two research interests: quantum and electrical engineering.

“What I like about research is that I have to break my head and find a new solution that doesn’t exist yet for a problem that many people are facing.”

While Frédéric Nolet is entering another stage of his career, he is not abandoning the idea of one day sharing his knowledge through teaching and participating in student projects.

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