Women of Quantum Technology: Dr. Natalia Chepiga of Delft University of Technology
While some individuals are interested in probing the limits of innovative technology like quantum computing, others, like Dr. Natalia Chepiga, are interested in quantum science as a tool to understand nature better. “I always wanted to be a researcher, to study fundamental properties of nature; it just turns out that we live in the era of quantum physics, and the most exciting, most promising research happens in the area of quantum,” she told Inside Quantum Technology. Chepiga is an assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), and there, not only studies quantum technology but also mentors and supervises various individuals beyond the University.
Chepiga’s research focuses on quantum phase transitions. “Over the past few decades, there was tremendous activity and progress in this direction: the development of conformal field theory in the 80s (this year’s breakthrough prize) and the invention of density matrix renormalization group algorithms in 1992 led to some fascinating theory predictions,” Chepiga explained. “But these methods have their own limitations; further progress in the field requires new methods. In this respect, simulation of quantum critical phenomena with quantum simulators seems the right way to pursue.”
To push this field further, Chepiga and her TU Delft team rely on various types of simulations. “In my research, I am still simulating quantum models on classical computers,” she added. “But this way, I am trying to predict the most fruitful and the most advantageous directions in which quantum-simulating platforms could evolve.” Chepiga supervises two Ph.D. students in her role, allowing them a front-row seat to learn more about quantum technology.
Besides keeping the supercomputer busy, Chepiga oversees various other projects. “I have teaching duties at TU Delft (I teach mechanics to mathematicians), and I frequently teach at international PhD schools (and I enjoy it a lot because I can teach something in connection to my own research),” Chepiga elaborated. “In addition, I hold a visiting professorship at the CNRS lab in Toulouse (France), where, in collaboration with local scientists, we study the effect of noise (unavoidable in modern quantum simulators) on quantum phase transitions.” With these many roles, Chepiga has collaborated with some of the well-known experts in her field as they work together to better understand quantum phase transitions.
While Chepiga has been fortunate to feel valued for her contributions, she understands that the environment can feel less inclusive and diverse as a female scientist in academia. “There is a well-known problem that at more senior stages of the career, females are less likely to be promoted, and I guess this is the main reason for females to quit academia – when it happens, it feels very unjust, and the question is how long one can ignore it,” she explained. “What could improve the situation? Clear career tracks, clear requirements public and identical for males and females. What else? Visible role models at all stages. Easier to say than to implement. But if we look at who usually teaches advanced quantum courses at master levels – male professors. Further in my career, it has become more and more difficult to find a female role model (well, my role model is a male professor; I cannot say if it is good or bad, but I would certainly appreciate it if I would have a choice).”
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 Scientific American, Discover Magazine, New Scientist, Ars Technica, and more.