Episode 9: Dr Viviana Villafañe
How will quantum technologies revolutionise our communications, and what will the quantum internet look like? Take a listen to Episode 9 of insideQuantum to find out!
This week we’re featuring Dr Viviana Villafañe, a George Foster Research Fellow at the Walter Schottky Institute and part of the Munich Centre for Quantum Science and Technology. Dr Villafañe obtained her PhD from the Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica in Argentina, followed by postdoctoral work at the Walter Schottky Institute in Germany.
🟢 Steven Thomson (00:06): Hi there and welcome to insideQuantum, the podcast telling the human stories behind the latest developments in quantum technologies. I’m Dr. Steven Thomson and as usual, I’ll be your host for this episode.
(00:17): In previous episodes, we’ve talked a lot about the theory of quantum technology and quantum devices and we’ve spoken a bit about how quantum computers might work, but in the modern world, everything is connected. Communication between devices - and between people - is more important than ever. That raises the question of how quantum devices are going to communicate with each other and how they’ll do it in a secure and reliable way. Today’s guest works on solving exactly this problem. It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Viviana Villafañe, an experimental physicist, and a distinguished post-doctoral researcher at the Walter Schottky Institute and the Munich Center for Quantum Science and Technology working on quantum communications. Thanks for joining us Viviana.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (01:01): Thank you very much for having me here today. Steven. It’s a pleasure for me.
🟢 Steven Thomson (01:06): So before we get onto the details of the quantum communications aspects of your work, let’s talk about your journey so far to this point. And can we start right at the very start? Could you tell us what first got you interested in quantum physics?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (01:19): Well, I must say we should go back first. Of course, I got interested in physics in general during high school. So I started reading a lot of physics books. Then I signed up for physics olympiads, these kinds of competitions between high schools. And when I started my PhD, I started to enjoy quantum physics related topics a lot. So at the time I was studying a complex system involving strong interactions between phonons and photons. And I also started teaching quantum mechanics at my former university. And while teaching, I realized that I really liked quantum mechanics a lot because it was predicting non-trivial phenomena. It was very beautiful and simple. And then I was trying to apply all these quantum concepts into the system that I was really studying. And yeah, by the time I finished my PhD, it become really clear to me that I…for my postdoc, I really wanted to go quantum and study a clear and a clean quantum system. That’s why, when I was offered the possibility to come here to Germany in Munich to study a photonic quantum system such as the one that I’m studying now, which are silicon vacancies in diamonds, I just couldn’t refuse. It’s just like a single electron confined in a silicon vacancy. It’s a typical two-level system , so we can play with spin information and I can really apply all these concepts that I really enjoy studying and thinking about. So yeah, that’s how mostly all started in a very brief way.
🟢 Steven Thomson (03:05): So it wasn’t until your PhD then that you really got into to quantum physics? It wasn’t something that you, you saw in your undergrad and you decided to pursue a PhD in - you decided already to do a PhD in something else and then discovered quantum physics afterwards?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (03:18): Yes, exactly. So I was doing my PhD mostly in condensed matter systems and all the phenomena that we were studying at the time was purely classical, but then I was always thinking, okay, but what’s the quantum aspects? And then I starting diving deeper on what I was doing. And, I, yeah, I started getting more and more interested in quantum physics. So I was actually doing cavity optomechanics, which is the study between the interactions between the vibrations of the system and the electric field that you can apply by laser pulses and continuous wave lasers. And of course, if you are…you start by studying a system that has a large number of photons and a large number of phonons, you’re in the classical regime, but as soon as you start decreasing the phonon and the photon number you enter in the quantum regime, and that’s where the physics got really interesting. And that was kind of a starting point of all my interest, so to say.
🟢 Steven Thomson (04:30): Was it a natural decision then, once you started to get interested in this, that you thought, “Okay, I really need to go and do a postdoc and pursue this further”?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (04:39): Yes. Because I found that I really like looking at Hamiltonians and I really like these new concepts that were arising. So mostly, you know, in quantum physics, people say, okay, we have the first quantum revolution that helped us to design and shape all the semiconductors that we’re all using today, in the technologies that we use every day, such as computers and cell phones. And now we are in a point that we are reaching the second quantum revolution, looking at concepts that were predicted by the theory, but we never pay attention to. So for instance, what happens with quantum entanglement, what happens with the projection of the states when we measure, and this is kind of the path that I followed. So I started studying semiconductor systems, like in the first quantum revolution. And then I was like, oh, I’m interested to see what the future is holding. And then I, yeah, started to become aware that people were actually studying this ‘spooky phenomena’, as Einstein said, and I wanted to be a part of it. So yeah, I tried to change a little bit the topic during my postdoc and yeah, try to do more quantum stuff.
🟢 Steven Thomson (05:55): Nice. So you mentioned there the second quantum revolution, so can you say a bit more about what that is and why it’s so exciting?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (06:05): Yes. I believe that the second quantum revolution is something that we are experiencing right now. It comes with the advent of these extremely new and powerful technologies, such as the development of the new quantum computers. Well, quantum communication systems, such as the ones that I’m trying to work with, and they explore or exploit different aspects of a quantum theory that until now hadn’t been used to produce these new and powerful technologies such like, for instance, if you have a quantum computer and you are using qubits and you’re producing entanglement between different qubits to achieve quantum supremacy, or if you want to do quantum communications. So you have to do the quantum teleportation of the state of a qubit into another one to achieve a communication between two parties that might be located at different places in the world. These are the things that up to now, as a humanity hadn’t been, yeah, aware of that, or haven’t been exploring too much and that now are getting put into real life technologies. So this is, I think what people are calling the second quantum revolution. So it’s quite exciting actually. So, a new type of technologies are coming. They’re going to impact our everyday life. And I think it’s going to be awesome. I’m pretty excited to see the future.
🟢 Steven Thomson (07:44): Yeah, absolutely. I guess, some examples of the first quantum revolution would be things, as you mentioned, semiconductors, but also lasers, which if I understand correctly were developed more or less to see if people could do it, but without any real practical application in mind, and now, now what would we do without lasers? So much of our technology and our world relies upon these things. It’s kind of mind blowing to think, what will our world look like in another fifty years after the second quantum revolution, after the technologies that you’ve mentioned that you’re working on, that will probably also change our world in ways that we can’t possibly imagine just yet. It will be really exciting to see what happens.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (08:23): Yeah. And to be part of that change, because now I’m doing research on this. For me. It’s yeah. It’s like a dream come true.
🟢 Steven Thomson (08:34): So what do you think is the biggest challenge facing, at least your field at the moment as part of this second quantum revolution?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (08:43): So what I’m currently doing, I’m working on building a quantum communications network. So in this sense, my main goal is to achieve and build a scalable quantum technology that would allow us to do long range quantum secure communications. And the point is that some people might not be aware, but this quantum communications are already happening. For instance, there is right now a big network in South Korea and another in China, between Beijing and Shanghai where people are using quantum protocols to have secure communications. Nonetheless, even though these networks are secure because they are quantum, they have a challenge that needs to be addressed. And the point is that, up to date, there are no quantum repeaters. So this means that if you are, for instance, trying to distribute a single photon between the two people that want to establish a quantum communication you will have…and you are going to send this photon on for a fiber, you will have losses in the fiber. So typically every 20 of 50 kilometers, this single photo will be lost. And the message that you’re going to transmit will be lost. So what we want to do in our lab is to build a quantum repeaters, such that the information can be sent across long distances without the need of third parties opening and reclosing the message. And I’m hoping that we would, we can achieve this soon. And of course, by then the existence of these networks and all the trials that are happening, as I mentioned, for instance, in China and South Korea will be very beneficial.
🟢 Steven Thomson (10:29): I see. So really developing a, a quantum repeater then is a technology that will allow quantum signals to be sent on much longer distances than is capable at the moment. So I can certainly see why that is an important step. Can you tell us a bit more about what the differences are between quantum communication and classical communication? Then why do we have to design a, a quantum repeater for quantum communication? Does the same problem arise in classical communication and how did they solve it there?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (10:59): So, I mean, yes, if you think about how classical communications are done today, so basically you have this optical network of fibers spread around the world. You can look at the map and see actually a lot of fibers crossing the Atlantic sea. And what we are doing right now is sending classical optical pulses, through these fibers, and every, let’s say 500 kilometers you have what it’s called a classical repeater, which is measures the incoming optical pulses, amplifies them and repeats them. So that’s how a classical repeater works. We would like to use the existing network to have quantum communications. So the approach would be ,okay, what if, instead of sending classical optical pulses containing millions of single photos, we send just a stream of single photons. And for instance, we couldn’t code the quantum information in the photon polarization. So that would be the difference between the classical and the quantum way. And in this sense, we need to be able to produce, store, manipulate and measure these single photons.
🟢 Steven Thomson (12:19): So why is a quantum repeater so much more challenging than a classical repeater? You tell us that we’ve already got these classical repeater stations every few hundred kilometers, what’s different about the quantum case that requires a new technology. Why is it so much more challenging to amplify and send on a quantum signal than a classical signal?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (12:38): So the issue that you’re talking about, why is it so challenging to, to build a quantum repeater, is the same reason why quantum communications are essentially more secure than classical communications. So, there is in quantum physics a theorem that’s called the non-cloning theorem which says that basically, if you have an arbitrary message encoded in quantum information, this message cannot…essentially, it cannot be copied. So the same idea that we use for a classical repeater cannot be directly extrapolated to make it quantum repeater. And that’s the first reason why quantum communications are secure. And the second reason would be that for instance, if you have a spy that would like to read the message that you are sending, by the laws of quantum mechanics, it will - the spy, when he measures or tries to read, he will induce a state projection instantaneously.
(13:43): So the transmitter and the receiver would be aware that there was a problem in the connection. So these two things make quantum communication safer. And these two things also are the ones that are saying that building a quantum repeater is a much more challenging task in this case. But, luckily there are a lot of proposals, theoretical proposals on how a quantum repeater should work. One is to just, if you hav, a very long distance, you can start by dividing the total distance between transmitter and receiver in several segments. And then between each segment, you could place our quantum repeater. So the idea would be that then what we need to do is emit single photons in each segment and use the quantum repeaters to entangle photons that arrive for neighbouring segments. And we could repeat this protocol until we extend entanglement between the photon that is in position of the transmitter and one is of the receiver. So this is what is called entanglement swapping. So it’s kind of a teleportation algorithm that it’s extended to build a quantum repeater.
🟢 Steven Thomson (15:00): I see. So it’s exactly the properties of quantum systems that make them useful for communication also makes them a real challenge then because of this. You mentioned the no -loning theorem. So that’s the reason why we can’t just amplify the signal. I guess if you try to do something like this, you change the signal. As soon as you touch a quantum state, as soon as you observe a quantum state, that’s it - you’ve changed something about it. And I guess what quantum repeaters are doing, if I understand correctly is that they’re trying to find a way to avoid this, to pass the signal on, but without introducing these changes, these errors, I guess, in the signal.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (15:37): Exactly. Yeah.
🟢 Steven Thomson (15:39): Okay. I see. So you, you’re an experimental physicist, so, you actually work with real systems and real materials. What kinds of setup do you use to work on quantum communications?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (15:52): Okay. So I basically work on an optical lab. So basically I have an optical table that has different lasers that provide me either with continuous or pulse light in different color ranges. I’m typically working with two different physical systems. One is silicon vacancies in diamond. And the second one is semiconductor quantum dots. So you can imagine a small piece of diamond that I place in the cryostat. I just throw a little bit of liquid helium in the cryostat. I put the system at four Kelvin. In the case of diamonds, this low temperature allows me to have a, what we call a long coherence time for the spin, which means that if I want to work with the spin of the electron, that is confined in the silicon vacancy, and I want to write the spin in a certain state that spin will live longer until the information is lost. In the case of quantum dots, these low temperatures help to achieve a fast on-demand source of single photons.
(17:04): And then the lasers, in the case of diamonds, they help me to read and write certain spin states in the silicon vacancy. And in the case of quantum dots, I use the laser to trigger the emission of single photons. So for instance, every time I send a pulse to the quantum dot, a certain pulse that I need to shape. So I need to choose which color and how long would be this pulse. But let’s say that I know my system and I have already studied it, so I know what to choose. I can obtain as an output a single photon. And yeah, I love it. It’s a lot of fun being in the lab, designing experiment. So definitely it’s the best part of my job.
🟢 Steven Thomson (17:54): So does this mean that future quantum communication networks are going to be made of diamonds?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (18:00): I think so. I really, really think so. I think, well, in our approach here at Walter Schottky Institute, we think that up to now, no single system has all the correct properties for us to say. So we are aiming towards a hybrid approach in which we can identify the strengths of each of the physical systems and use it in our benefits. So I mostly talk about two systems. Quantum dots are basically a semiconductor system. It’s like something that you can grow very easily these days. It’s like if you were, it’s a zero dimensional optical trap for electrons and holes. And it works really nice as a single photon source. So it’s very fast. So every 200 seconds you can have animation of a single photon. And it has been proven that all the photons that the system meets are very similar to each other, so you can make them interact.
(19:07): So you can build highly entangled states between two photons coming out of the same source, which is not something that we would say about silicon vacancies in diamond. Silicon vacancies in diamond are very slow at emitting photons and they’re not very bright, but they’re very good because they have long coherence times, which is something that quantum dots don’t have. So if you were to write something on the spin in the silicon vacancy, it can remain there up to 10 milliseconds, which is a lot. So it’s more than an order of magnitude of what you would get in a quantum dot. So what we are trying to do here is try to benefit from these two system at Walter Schottky. So, as I said, for this long range, quantum communications, we would need a stream of single photos traveling up to a quantum repeater.
(19:59): And we envision the quantum repeater made out of diamond with a single silicon vacancy, and we want to use the spin of that silicon vacancy as memory. So we would have a very fast source with the quantum dot emitting single photons. And when these single photons arrive and start scattering with our silicon, we could store the information of the photons in the spin. So yeah, this is what we really want to do, because so far I’ve been saying quantum repeater, but this is how it would really look like. So the repeater itself it would look like a diamond. The photon sources would look like a semiconductor, something that we already know and yeah, in the middle we have to build all the technology and all the protocols to make it happen.
🟢 Steven Thomson (20:50): I see, that’s really interesting. I’ve heard about silicon vacancies and quantum dots, but I didn’t realize that you could combine the strengths of both of these materials together to design one system that can harness both of those strengths and actually, yeah, use them to work as a quantum repeater. That’s really interesting.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (21:10): Thank you. Yeah, that’s what we want to try at least, yeah. The issue…so when you start studying Silicon vacancies on diamond, what do you need to do? So we buy basically a diamond and then you go to a company and say, yes, can you shoot silicon into the diamond? And then you need to activate the center. And then the electronic levels of the electron that’s in there, there are completely defined. So as it turns out the zero phonon line or the wavelength that the silicon vacancy interacts with is 737nm, always. So you cannot change that because it’s given by the atom you picked - in this case, it’s silicon. And we chose silicon because you have a really long coherence time. So it’s a really good quantum memory, as we said.
(22:05): So most of the work that we have done, it was actually engineering on the quantum dot because so far there were no quantum dots working at 737nm. So we really had to look for, okay, how would you grow that? How would you optimize that? Which type of contacts can you add to such a structure such that we can trap an electron there, take it out if we need to. And yeah, that was most of the work that that we’ve been doing. Yeah. That was the most challenging part of this process. And now we’re at the point where we’ve finished optimization on the quantum dots and we’re looking forward to do the interfacing, to see if both systems wants to be friends with each other and start interacting, which we don’t know yet.
🟢 Steven Thomson (22:56): Do you think that quantum secure communications will become widespread before quantum computers become widespread? It seems like there’s a bit of a race here. That one device can break all current encryption and one device brings a new unbreakable encryption, but which one’s going to win this race?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (23:13): That’s a good question. I’m not so sure. Yeah, probably it’s going to be a tight race, but one fun fun fact is if you look at the amount of quantum patents that are going out right now, so by country and by topic, so the United States is leading all the quantum patents related to quantum computing. So you have Google with Sycamore for instance, and you have IBM, which also has a quantum computer. And if you look at China, they are a leader in patents related to quantum communications. So it seems like you have these, both very strong countries, doing different things that are related. So one is towards, like breaking the code. And the other one is towards looking how to secure the communications, which really shows the importance of what we’re doing.It runs not only on, yeah, physical curiosity or technological applications, but also it has a lot of, yeah, political impact in the future. So it’s, it’s a really complex subject.
🟢 Steven Thomson (24:23): Yeah, absolutely. And I guess also, you know, we talk about secure communications and encryption. The obvious thing people might think of here is military or government communications, but also I guess, on an everyday basis. So many of the signals that we send across the internet are encrypted in some way, right? Our credit card details, things that we use for online purchases. So if you have the quantum computer that can crack all of these codes, then really we’re all in trouble. So, yeah, I can completely see that having secure quantum communications is not just a concern for maybe the politicians or the military, but actually it’s something that we all need in the future. Yeah.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (25:03): Yeah.
🟢 Steven Thomson (25:04): And touching on the internet there, I mentioned that we, you know, we use encryption in our internet communications all the time. Would these quantum communication devices that you’re working on, would they essentially replace the internet as we know it? Let’s say in 10 years and 20 years, will we be using a quantum version of the internet instead of the current version?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (25:24): I think so. I hope so. I would like to think that yes, we are going to, yeah. Yeah. As I tell you, I think it’s going to come naturally. Once quantum computers are there, then of course, more and more efforts are going to be put into the quantum communications parts. As I tell you, there are already a lot of companies selling devices that can do quantum key distribution. There are some networks that are already there. So yeah, I think it’s going to happen real soon.
🟢 Steven Thomson (25:57): If you’re sending signals using some kind of quantum communication device, do you need a quantum computer to receive and decode these signals or can they be received and decoded also on classical hardware?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (26:10): No, you definitely need a quantum thing to receive like quantum information. So in this case, many people think of, it’s almost like doing a small quantum computer. So we only want to have one qubit in a quantum repeater, which is able to read and resend somehow this information. So, in that sense, people are saying that it might be less challenging to actually have a quantum repeater because instead of having many entanged qubits, we only need one to receive these photons. So yeah, I think both fields are extremely related, and it’s like having a small quantum processor, which really needs…all that it needs to be is a strong and efficient spin-photon interface. So you need to have spin memory that is able to efficiently store the information of a flying fault. So you, for instance Steven could send me a single photon to me and I will receive it or in the middle would be a quantum repeater with a spin that can store that information and send it back to me. So, yeah, it’s like a down scaling problem from a quantum computer in some sense.
🟢 Steven Thomson (27:19): I see. I see. Okay. And if we did replace the classical internet with a quantum internet, everybody would need some sort of quantum decoding device in their homes, I guess, to interpret and decode these signals.That’s interesting. I’ve talked with previous guests about quantum computers and how useful will they be? You know, will we have a quantum computer in every home or will it be that quantum computers are only for big companies and kinda living in the cloud. But I guess from what you’re saying, if quantum communications become very widespread…okay, maybe we won’t have, you know, a big hundred qubit quantum computer in our living room, but we have to have some quantum technology just to interpret the communications that we’re receiving and to send other signals. Interesting.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (28:04): That’s true, yeah. Because I think so…I would answer the same thing, right. If I think about a quantum computer, I would say, okay, we can have one and everybody can have their remote access and do their calculations there. But in this field we will definitely need something small that everybody can have. So yeah. Yeah. That’s a fun fact.
🟢 Steven Thomson (28:25): Yeah. And the devices that you’re working with, you mentioned earlier, a cryostat and liquid helium, so these devices have to be very cold at the moment. Is this going to be a challenge? I guess, I can’t imagine you could keep all of these repeater stations cold with liquid helium if you have one, every five or ten kilometers all across the world. Is this…do they have to be cold or is this something that you’re working on improving in the future?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (28:54): No, unfortunately up to now they have to be cold. So this is definitely detrimental. If you think of, yeah, global scale applications or people having these devices at home, there is still a long way to go in this direction. One approach that people are looking to is start, as I’ve said before, working with different types of vacancies that can work at much higher temperatures. But yeah, this is definitely something we need to work on. So the community kind of right now, I think wants to show a demonstrator or a show that we can really have a quantum repeater. And while we are also trying to find something that could work at higher temperatures, of course, having a quantum memory at room temperature, I don’t think that’s going to be possible, but maybe we can, yeah, try to increase a little bit the temperature such that it can be more reachable for mass applications in the future. But yeah, this is something that indeed we need to do better.
🟢 Steven Thomson (30:06): I guess this comes back to the problem that we always have with quantum technologies, which is preventing decoherence, right. Preventing systems from becoming entangled with their environment and just losing all of their quantum properties, which so far seems to always require low temperatures in order to stabilize this stuff.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (30:23): Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
🟢 Steven Thomson (30:26): So part of the work that you do involves quantum optics, which means that you’re using light to control and manipulate quantum devices. Can you tell us a little bit about why this is useful? What is the advantage of using light to talk to and control quantum devices?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (30:43): Yeah. Okay. So first I would like to say that I love working in the optical lab and with lasers. So I think my answer might be biased, but having say that, yeah, there are some approaches where people use microwaves to try to do the coherent control of the spin, but I’m a person that believes that all optical control gives access to ultra fast spin manipulation. So that can allow for thousands of fast spin rotations, even the presence of fast decoherence. And also you typically use low power when we are working with lasers. So you definitely have less heating effects that induce decoherence. So I’m up for the optical control of these systems.
🟢 Steven Thomson (31:31): That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought about heating. We talked there about keeping your systems cold, but of course, if you’re shining a laser on your system, either repeatedly or for a long period of time, that makes sense that heating would start to become a problem. Yes, that’s interesting.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (31:47): Yeah. Yeah. That’s a problem.
🟢 Steven Thomson (31:48): Is this one of the reasons why diamond is a good material for storing the vacancies?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (31:55): Yes, but of course, if you are applying a microwave all the time, you also will have some heating issues. So, but yes, of course, diamond it is a very good heat conductor. So the dissipation should be better, I would say. Ah, this is a hard question because mostly what people do are…building nanostructures around the single silicon vacancy. So it’s not that you have a bulk material, so a bulk diamond matrix that can really dissipate the heat. So you end up with a nanobeam that measures a few microns long for a few nanometers, hundreds of nanometers wide. So that’s a tough one. I guess you have to do some engineering there, if you want to optimize for heat dissipation, especially if you’re using microwaves.
🟢 Steven Thomson (32:43): Okay. And then the other point you mentioned there was that lasers have ultra fast repeat rates that microwaves don’t have. So does this mean decoherence is less of a problem, then, if you can complete the operation that you want to complete sufficiently quickly before it decoheres…if you can do this very, very quickly, then it doesn’t really matter how long it takes to decohere?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (33:04): Exactly. And also the coupling sequences, where you apply pulses that can decouple your spin from the environment even. And if you can do that faster to follow the spin coherence, that’s usually an advantage.
🟢 Steven Thomson (33:20): I see. Okay. Interesting. I have a couple of questions to end with then. So one question that I like to ask every guest on this podcast is that physics has historically not been a very diverse science, a very diverse field of research. It’s been largely dominated by white cisgender men for a very long time. I think and I hope that things are starting to change slowly in this modern world. Over the course of your career so far, and having worked in several different countries, have you seen attitudes change at all, either over time or in the different countries where you’ve worked?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (34:01): Yes. I think everything is becoming much better in many aspects. So I’m glad that we are definitely being part of a change in society and especially in science, that it’s very nice to experience. For instance, what we’re doing right now, giving me exposure in media, featuring this like a woman in science, it really helps because it sets a nice example. There might be young people there considering to come in this field. It’s nice for them to have references. Also I think here in Germany, they’re doing a lot of things that are great in this sense. So there are many fellowships and funding opportunities that are directly addressed to women. For instance, at MCQST this type of positive discrimination is really beneficial for the community. And they also providing me with some coaching and mentoring activities for women in science, which have been really helpful.
(34:59): Fun fact, for instance, I was in a coaching activity a few months ago, and we were discussing about imposter syndrome in science. And the question was if we believed as scientists that if women were more likely to have imposter syndrome than men, and of course, all of us said, yes, women, but the truth is that both sexes are bound to have imposter syndrome. It’s like a 50-50% chance. It’s just like, women are more likely to talk about it. So if you’re in a coffee break talking to your colleagues, maybe you’re like, oh, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I feel a bit, a bit overwhelmed. And there’s likely that men will be like more like, yeah, I’m in the lab, I’m doing my research. I’m super secure of what I’m doing, which, which is good to know. And also it’s good that these kind of discussions pop up in this types of events of coaching and mentoring, as I just said. So I think a lot of changes are happening that are helping women to gain visibility and have more opportunities in the field. And I’m glad to be a part of it.
🟢 Steven Thomson (36:08): That’s also an interesting point there that men experience imposter syndrome, but often don’t want to talk about it. I guess that’s the sort of the other side of sexism is that men often don’t feel comfortable talking about these things. And we like to, you know, pretend that we’re being very tough and not talk about this. And that is also something that I hope will change over time that maybe men will become more comfortable saying maybe they don’t feel so secure or they have worries, or they have concerns or - God forbid - emotions and feelings. And that it’s okay to talk about this. And then maybe then, okay, we start to realize that actually both genders maybe feel the same, but just, it’s just that we don’t talk about it in the same ways or, or at all. So, yeah, that’s certainly something that I would, I would like to see. As a man, I would like to see men having these discussions a bit more often and a bit more, more, honestly. One final question to end on, then - if you could go back in time and give yourself just one piece of advice, what would it be?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (37:10): Uh, that’s a tough one. I would say it’s more like a collection of advices. First, it would be like, try to enjoy and relax a little bit. Enjoy every time you are going into the lab, just don’t be so self-conscious, take your time. Don’t rush through it. Take my time to pose my own questions, to explore, try to come up with my answers, try to set like stepping stones. Today, I’m trying to learn this or asking this question. I will set the basis and then I will continue because, yeah, this is how it works. You can’t rush through it. And the second would be like, for me, it’s really interesting…something that I’ve learned is that you need to be less strong network of connections. You need to…nobody does science alone, so we all benefit from discussions and teamwork.
(38:02): So it’s good that you build a nice strong team. You are in a place where you feel comfortable and be able to discuss with all, yeah, your collaborators, the people around you. And yeah, for me, this is very important. Before it was very important as a student, like being in a place where you feel motivated and now it’s, it has become very important as a postdoc just to learn how to build a team, how to inspire people, how to show them the big picture. Yes, we’re aiming to do quantum communications in the future because the quantum internet is coming. Today, we have to fix the laser. Sorry, come with me. I will show you how so. Yeah, that’s the advice I would say.
🟢 Steven Thomson (38:45): I think that’s, that’s a really good point. The thing you say there about no one does science alone. I think that is a really good point. I think we often, we, we hear these stories about, about Einstein or Feynman, Dirac, all these people, and they’re always held up as kind of lone geniuses, but…I don’t know if that was ever really true, but it’s certainly not true in the modern world. These days, you know, science is something done by people, by people talking to each other by people working together or across borders and across countries. And, and yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, remembering that science is done by people and, and talking to people is a really, really helpful thing in us all doing the best science that we can. All right. Great. I think that is a really good note to end on. So if our audience would like to learn a little bit more about you, is there anywhere they can find you on the internet, for example, on social media or on an academic website, anything like that?
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (39:41): Yes, of course. So MCQST has a page with my name and my position, and I think an email address where you can reach me. Otherwise I have a Twitter account and I’m also on LinkedIn, so yes, if you’re interested, you can always reach me. I will try to answer you as soon as possible. And yeah, that, that’s it, I think.
🟢 Steven Thomson (40:06): All right. Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Viviana Villafañe for your time today.
🟣 Viviana Villafañe (40:11): Thank you, Steven, for having me here, it was a fun experience.
🟢 Steven Thomson (40:16): Thank you also to the Unitary Fund for supporting this podcast. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please consider liking, sharing and subscribing wherever you’d like to listen to your podcast. It really helps us to get our guest stories out to as wide audience as possible. I hope you’ll join us again for our next episode, and until then, this has been insideQuantum, I’ve been Dr. Steven Thomson and thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.