TQD Exclusive: Interview With University of Chile Physicist Luis Foa Torres

Expanding on from the article about Argentine physicist Luis Foa Torres some weeks back, TQD managed to steal five minutes with him in an interview where quantum pumping, his most fruitful years ahead and the QC sector in 2030 were all salient topics. The conversation was both interesting and insightful

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TQD: To kick things off, Luis, can you tell the TQD something about your educational background and achievements to date?

Foa Torres: I’m a condensed matter physicist. I got my Ph.D. at the University of Córdoba in Argentina and then I moved for several postdocs in Europe. First at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, a place dependent on United Nations and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), then to the Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique in Grenoble, then to Dresden where I had a Humboldt Fellowship. Later I returned to Argentina with a position at CONICET (National Council for Science and Technology). I worked at my alma mater for six years and then moved to the University of Chile in 2016.

‘In general, I think that the main catalyzer for quantum computing might be the awareness that the hardware might become strong enough soon.’

Since 2010 I’ve been leading a team of physicists and chemists. We had typically 3–6 people in the team. We deal mainly with the electrical and transport properties of different materials, two-dimensional materials, topological insulators. Over the years we produced a few well-cited papers, the best ones came during the last six-eight years and were produced while working in South America. In 2018, the ICTP Prize recognized these works.

TQD: What is the QC ecosystem like in South America currently? Do you see a shift in awareness about the technology on the continent?

Foa Torres: I think that there is a shift, but it’s driven by the people who do research not necessarily governments. In general, I think that the main catalyzer for quantum computing might be the awareness that the hardware might become strong enough soon. This should trigger advances in the ways in which we could use it.

TQD: What is the investment activity in the space like in the region?

Foa Torres: Funding comes from governments, very little from companies. This needs to be checked since I do not have right now any official statistics.

TQD: With quantum physicists such as Juan Pablo Paz and Karen Hallberg from Argentina, as well as Ana Maria Rey from Colombia leading the charge for Latin Americans in the QC industry, do you see your own research having a similar impact in the coming years?

Foa Torres: We work hard to keep doing good science, I hope that my colleagues find it interesting, though the impact is difficult to predict. I’m 41, so I expect my most fruitful years to be still ahead.

I’m not that much into quantum computing but rather in other quantum-mechanical aspects that may find a way into quantum computing. Like topological states in materials, photonic systems, etc.

In Latin America, we have seen a shift in human resources. We now have many more scientists compared to what we had 20 years ago, and South-South collaborations are getting stronger.

TQD: Quantum pumping is an interesting conceptcan you go into a little more detail about it, please?

Foa Torres: Quantum pumping is a phenomenon allowing charge to flow directionally between electrodes even in the absence of a bias voltage (or against it). To achieve that one needs typically to apply a fluctuating potential to the device. In many cases, this arises because of a quantum interference effect which makes it, in my view, even more interesting.

‘Perhaps by 2030, we can see many more quantum-enhanced algorithms for search, AI, etc.’

TQD: And how can this technology help QC?

Foa Torres: Quantum pumping provides a way to steer charge (or spin) in a very precise way. This precision steering is seen by many people as something that might be a useful building block in quantum computing. But this was not the original goal of most of the people doing research on this.

TQD: Just imagine it’s 2030. How far has quantum information systems and QC come?

Foa Torres: I think that the most promising space is still that of algorithms. More powerful hardware will come sooner or later, but where we need more creativity is in the algorithms profiting from it. Perhaps by 2030, we can see many more quantum-enhanced algorithms for search, AI, etc.

TQD: And finally, Luis, what are your immediate plans for 2020? Any interesting conferences that you will be attending or research projects planned?

Foa Torres: I scheduled 2020 as a recharge year. This means that I will travel less than in previous years and spend more time updating and defining my long-term goals. Topological things will surely be at the top of my list. A great conference this year will be Graphene 2020 with a special program for topological phenomena.

TQD: Thanks for your time, Luis.

See original article on Torres here.