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Women of Quantum Technology: Alexia Auffèves of the CNRS

Alexia Auffèves, research director at CNRS and the head of the International Research Lab MajuLab in Singapore discusses her journey into the quantum industry.
By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry posted 29 May 2024

In the burgeoning field of quantum technology, few names resonate as profoundly as that of Alexia Auffèves, a visionary at the forefront of quantum research and a champion for integrating physics with philosophy. As a research director at CNRS and the head of the International Research Lab MajuLab in Singapore, Auffèves has carved a niche by merging theoretical quantum physics with practical applications, focusing on quantum optics and quantum thermodynamics.

“My primary interest in quantum physics was always in quantum foundations. I have a degree in philosophy, and I spent my experimental PhD fabricating Schrödinger cat states of light. Together with P. Grangier and N. Farouki, I worked on a new interpretation of quantum physics,” Auffèves told Inside Quantum Technology. “I think that the technologies with the best potential for development rely on these short loops between applications and foundations, as it was the case for thermodynamics: optimizing engines gave birth to the arrow of time!”

Auffèves’s journey into the quantum realm was fueled by a deep-rooted fascination with the fundamental aspects of quantum physics, a path she embarked upon after an experimental PhD under the tutelage of Serge Haroche.

At the heart of Auffèves’s research lies an intricate relationship between energy, information, and irreversibility at the quantum level. Her interest in quantum energetics—understanding the ultimate energy and entropy costs of fundamental quantum processes—sheds new light on the oldest paradoxes of quantum physics while offering the potential for significant energy savings in emerging quantum technologies. This intersection of quantum energetics and technology aims to solve age-old quantum conundrums and to revolutionize how we understand and utilize energy in the quantum age.

She explained: “How do these costs impact the resource consumption of “full-stack” quantum machines, i.e., taking into account the enabling technologies responsible for their classical control? As quantum computing entails the manipulation of possibly macroscopic states of data registers, the latter question can be reformulated in a very fundamental way: What is the ultimate energy cost of controlling a Schrödinger cat while keeping it dead and alive, taking into account its classical context?”

Auffèves’s transition into the quantum industry was as natural as it was inevitable. It stemmed from her academic pursuits and led to collaborations with startups and companies under the aegis of the French Quantum Strategy. Her tenure as the head of the Grenoble quantum center, now known as QuantAlps, and her initiatives to develop energetic monitoring of quantum machines underscore her commitment to bridging the gap between academia and industry, quantum and classical, hardware and software.

“The network I have built along these years has been extremely precious to raise awareness on the crucial interest of developing an energetic monitoring of quantum machines at governmental levels,” Auffèves added.

In 2022, Auffèves and colleagues Robert Whitney, Olivier Ezratty and Janine Splettstoesser launched the Quantum Energy Initiative (QEI), marking a significant milestone in quantum research. This interdisciplinary and international community aims to foster an understanding of the energetic footprint of quantum technologies. She elaborated, “In the venture of the QEI, the quantum industry was proactive from Day 1, with many partners from various sizes and countries – the last partner being nothing but IBM!” The QEI has quickly gained momentum, drawing support from industry giants and receiving funding to model and optimize the energetic efficiency of quantum computers. This endeavor reflects Auffèves’s dedication to addressing foundational and practical problems within the quantum realm.

Currently, Auffèves stands as a beacon of inspiration in her roles as a first-class CNRS research director and director of international research at MajuLab across the global quantum community. Auffèves explained that at CNRS, her role is “the one of an academic researcher: I define the problems I am inspired by and want to work on, then I motivate people to work with me! Doing so, I actually have many jobs, like an auto-entrepreneur (with the only difference that I am paid by the CNRS): I must raise funds, attract talents, hire them, lead a research team, mentor young researchers, communicate on our scientific results by writing papers and attending conferences, develop a critical view on my research and understand its societal implications..”

Yet her role extends beyond that of a researcher at CNRS; she is a mentor, a leader, and a visionary who understands the societal implications of her work. Her efforts to enhance MajuLab’s visibility and develop synergies between French and Singaporean quantum ecosystems indicate her broader ambition to foster global collaboration in quantum research.

Moreover, Auffèves is a vocal advocate for diversity in the quantum industry. She believes that equitable pay for women and promoting role models for young girls are crucial steps toward achieving gender parity. Auffèves also emphasizes the importance of addressing biases and promoting diversity in all facets of academia and the industry. “In general, chasing and deconstructing biases is essential, and this work is fortunately in progress in many areas of our societies these days,” she said. “In academia, bring diversity to committees and boards, as well as to the invited speakers list…I am not necessarily for strong positive discrimination measures. But name and shame could do the job against under-representation, which is still a reality.” This stance not only enriches the field of quantum technology but also paves the way for a more inclusive and innovative future.

Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is the Managing Editor at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, quantum computing, and AI. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, New Scientist, Ars Technica, and more.

Categories: Education, photonics, quantum computing, research, women in quantum

Tags: Alexia Auffèves, CNRS, MajuLab Singapore, Women in quantum

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