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UvA also jumps into quantum gap with a program: “We are simply the best”

Jip Koene,
5 juli 2024 - 09:34

Quantum technology is considered revolutionary, prompting significant investment. The new master’s program in Quantum Computing at the UvA aims to meet the growing demand for quantum specialists. “It is part of our national strategy to be at the forefront of quantum technology.”

The new Quantum Computing master’s program was on the brink of beginning the next academic year with zero students says John van de Wetering, director of the program. But at the last minute, more than 20 students could enroll at the end of June. “Accrediting a program is a long process that requires many people’s opinions and approval. At each step along the way, you can get delayed. Despite that, we are very pleased with the result.”

Foto: John van de Wetering

National strategy
Quantum technology is making a breakthrough, it is safe to say. And the Netherlands wants to be at the forefront of this revolution. Therefore, in 2020, €600 million was released from the National Growth Fund to implement a project to position the Netherlands as a leading international center for quantum technology. It is called Quantum Delta NL from which, among other things, the new program in Amsterdam has emerged. However, the National Growth Fund has already been discontinued. According to Van de Wetering, this does not pose any problems for the master’s program and the sector. “It has been strategically determined that the Netherlands wants to be at the forefront of quantum technology. So, there is investment in people who can work in the sector and therefore in programs like ours. I am not worried.” Apart from funding from the Netherlands, there is also considerable investment in this new technology by large companies such as Alphabet (Google), Meta (Instagram, Facebook, WhatApp), and IBM (one of the largest IT companies in the world).
Those investments are being made for a reason. What started in the 1980s with a different take on the binary ones and zeroes of classical computers (the bits) grew into an entirely new field, where with quantum, a 1 can be a 0 at the same time (the qubits). Quantum technology uses particles smaller than atoms to make computers and other devices much faster and more powerful than traditional technology, resulting in a massive increase in computing power. Although a “useful” quantum computer does not yet exist, it is already being experimented with extensively. Quantum computers should eventually be able to perform complex computations needed to develop new materials, medicines, or cybersecurity in no time. “What a quantum computer would take several hours to do, a classic computer might take thousands of years,” Van de Wetering says. “Quantum technology, like artificial intelligence, promises a technological leap forward, and the Netherlands doesn’t want to miss that boat.”

“While many universities struggle with having enough qualified lecturers who can teach at that level, the UvA is in a position of enormous luxury”

Not the first master’s program 
The master’s program at the UvA builds on that philosophy, but it is not the only quantum program in the Netherlands. In fact, in recent years fully-fledged quantum programs have already been set up in Leiden, Delft, and Eindhoven, each with its own signature in the field of quantum technology. One focuses more on building quantum computers and the other on the role of nanotechnology, focusing primarily on physics. Maastricht offers a minor with a focus on artificial intelligence. “The UvA distinguishes itself not by focusing on the computer hardware such as chips, cooling systems, etc., but on the software and what you can do with such computers,” Van de Wetering says.
Track, Minor, or Master’s program 
In addition to classes in physics, mathematics, and computer science, students learn to develop new software for quantum computers. “In the program, we mainly focus on the theoretical aspects of quantum technology, the mathematics, which is also what we are best at. The ultimate goal is to train students as full-fledged researchers in quantum technology. Graduates will be well positioned for a PhD track, for positions in quantum start-ups, or as quantum experts at large companies integrating quantum technologies, such as banks,” Van de Wetering says.
It was not clear initially whether the UvA would have a full-fledged program. Consideration was given to a specific track, a minor, or even an MOOC, a massive online open course. “In the end, we decided to go for a full program,” Van de Wetering continues. “While many universities struggle with having enough qualified lecturers who can teach at that level, the UvA is in a position of enormous luxury. We have people at a very specialized level who know a lot about sub-fields within quantum computing who are also willing and able to teach it.”