An initiative supported by the NSERC

QSciTech: a proven program

The quantum science and technology field is booming. Companies are emerging and are looking for new talent to develop themselves. What are the necessary skills to be successful in such a field? First, one must be versatile, that is, have good knowledge in both physics and engineering. One must also know the entrepreneurial world and have developed organizational skills. How does one access such training? It’s easier than you might think.

The QSciTech program, a course offered, among others, at the Université de Sherbrooke, aims to train students in engineering and in science (such as physics, computer science, mathematics and chemistry) at the graduate level in quantum technologies and entrepreneurship. This course was initiated by the Institut quantique (IQ) in January 2019 and is funded by the CREATE program – Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program – of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The objective of this value-added program is to match physicists with engineers so that they are introduced to both disciplines, to communication effectively with each other, and to develop their entrepreneurial spirit.

Thus, as part of the program, engineering students are introduced to quantum mechanics, and physics students are introduced to design and management of engineering projects: “We train students in engineering, computer science and mathematics to quantum science and science students to engineering methods, that is, to the design process and to project management. This way, a common language develops, regardless of whether one’s original discipline is physics or engineering,” confirms Professor Yves Bérubé-Lauzière, Director of the QSciTech program and professor at the Faculty of Engineering.

Bringing people from different disciplines together in the same program brings beneficial exchanges for their academic career and for their future careers: “What I liked most about my experience was the pedagogical method of the entrepreneurship course, ACT800, which was based on exchanges between students form different disciplines. That made it very dynamic. It was really nice to speak with people from other fields in order to know their point of view and to be exposed to opinions that differ from those we are used to,” shares Emmanuel Calvet, doctoral student in computer engineering and participant in the QSciTech program.

Opening our horizons to the quantum field

Transitioning from fundamental physics to the industry is possible more than ever thanks to the QSciTech program. “My background is in fundamental physics, so I had no idea how businesses work. I am doing a Cifre thesis (Convention Industrielle de Formation par la REcherche) in an industrial environment with a three-year employment contract with the company STMicroelectronics in France. When I heard that such a program was being offered in Sherbrooke, I was fascinated by the idea of receiving training in engineering and in the entrepreneurship world as a physicist. I believe that this training is very relevant to my career and that it could provide me with important tools. The entrepreneurship course was the one I liked the most. We studied the templates for starting a business, step by step; we held presentations and discussions with future clients, and calculated budgets. After this experience, I think that the entrepreneurship field could interest me as a project,” says Ioanna Kriekouki, doctoral student in physics.

“We often imagine that we must do research in physics, but there are so many interesting things that we have to see. We have to give ourselves the chance to see the other opportunities and learn about them,” she adds.

New opportunities for outstanding training

The QSciTech program also includes a cooperative internship in the quantum industry, which is completely new to graduate studies. Indeed, students have the incredible opportunity to do an internship in a quantum technology industry. “What motivated me the most to take this course was the paid internship in a company. It’s rare that we have the opportunity to do a graduate internship in the field in which we specialize in, and I really look forward to building a network of contacts,” added Maxime Lapointe-Major, doctoral student in electrical engineering.

The quantum industry continues to grow in Estrie. For example, 1Qbit, a Vancouver-based company, recently opened an office in Sherbrooke. Professor Yves Bérubé-Lauzière is certain that this is only the beginning: “A few months ago, Sherbrooke applied to be designated as an innovation area in quantum sciences. This means that we have to do cutting edge research paired with cutting edge training, and we need an industrial environment and ecosystem that surrounds and promotes it, and that’s what we’re creating. Thanks to the QSciTech program, our students are well prepared for when they enter the job market.”

The quantum field at the service of society

Above all, quantum technologies want to contribute to societal needs. The QSciTech program allows researchers to see a technology’s entire design chain, from fundamental science to its development, and, eventually, its commercialization. “The technologies that we design in the quantum field have to solve practical problems, to improve the quality of life and society. Therefore, we need to train people who have a global vision of the process, including the impacts that such technologies could have on our society,” confirms Professor Yves Bérubé-Lauzière.

“Professor Jean Bibeau’s vision of entrepreneurship in the ACT800 class focuses on people and on empathy. It reminds me of a quote from Rabelais, ‘science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme.’ This class teaches us to always refocus on the idea that man and society are at the forefront of any design project. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn,” shares Emmanuel Calvet.

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