Trapped Ions and Quantum VCs with Chiara Decaroli

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[00:00:01] Kevin Rowney: Welcome back. today we're talking with Dr. Chiara Decaroli, who is a quantum fund investment manager at Redstone Capital. Previous to her job at Redstone, she was the quantum innovation sector lead at the National Quantum Computing Center. Her doctoral thesis was on the physics of ion trap technologies.

We're really looking forward to a deep dive and exploring these aspects of her background on today's podcast. Hey, so Sebastian, how did you meet Dr. Decaroli?

[00:00:50] Sebastian Hassinger: Yeah, Kevin, I've Known Kiara for a couple of years now. I first encountered her in her role at the NQCC. So this is the National Quantum Computing Center of the UK.

She was playing a role in user engagement. and in fact, we met because I was helping organize, AWS's participation in a hackathon that they were organizing. part of the NQCC's mission is to, create more quantum information science skills within industry, and Kara was playing that role for the NQCC, and it really fit well with her strengths as a science communicator, and her interest in outreach and making the field more accessible to a broader set of, Participants, and then I encountered just by chance, I think, a Medium post that she wrote on the history of Ion Traps, and that was really the impetus for having her on the show today.

Our inspiration for this one, yeah. We've had, exactly, because, we had that, discussion with Dan Stick from Sandia, which was great, but it was also talking about the state of the art today in Ion Trapping. And it really, we haven't really dove into the foundations, the scientific, sort of history of, what, what is now, a major modality of qubit.

So I thought that'd be a really interesting discussion. Awesome. I

[00:02:12] Kevin Rowney: think this is going to be some good stuff. Let's, let's roll on in.

[00:02:15] Sebastian Hassinger: Welcome back

to the podcast. today we have joining us a special guest, Chiara Decaroli. she earned her PhD at ETH Zurich, a very well renowned school for quantum computing, quantum physics, I should say, before spending some years in academia, and then joining the National Quantum Computing Center in the UK, where she focused on community development and user engagement.

that's where I first met Chiara. We were, collaborating on a hackathon a couple of years back in, in the UK. and more recently she's joined, Redstone, which is a venture capital firm based in Zurich, that's focusing on quantum computing startups. So welcome, Chiara. Thanks for joining us. Thank

[00:03:30] Chiara Decaroli: you so much for having me.

I'm super excited about my presentation today.

[00:03:35] Sebastian Hassinger: Excellent. we always like to start with just a sort of open ended question of like, how did you get to where you are today? It's always interesting to hear. So when we start

[00:03:45] Chiara Decaroli: there. Yeah, of course. So, I guess I took quite a strange path towards quantum.

first of all, I come from a very, tiny village in the countryside in Italy, in the north of Italy. And I come from a family that is, nobody went to university. And somehow I was I ended up doing a high school that was very classics heavy, so I, was trained in ancient Greek, Latin, philosophy and, and I guess it's, it's really through translating the texts from the ancient Greek philosophers.

democritus and the likes that I started thinking about physics, and, and really getting interested in physics and in the natural world. and so some, somehow from that, I made the leap into, going abroad, to the UK to study, experimental physics for my bachelor's.

degree. and then I did a master's in photonics, which was, which is basically the study of light and the study of how light interacts with matter. and this was a master's that was a bit spread all around Europe. So two years, every six months in a different country. and, somehow then ended up in, in Switzerland for my master's thesis and stick to Switzerland for my PhD studies.

and. As I went, as I, deepened my understanding of physics and I was really, happy with my choice, first of all, to go into studying a subject that was so close to how, how the world works, how things in nature work. and, then I, felt that the most fundamental layer was really quantum.

quantum physics, quantum mechanics. And that there was a layer that was really close to, to really the foundation of reality. and that was the reason why I was always drawn to quantum, even at the beginning of my bachelor's and, And the reason why I then, did lots of projects, hands on projects, internships within the field of quantum technologies.

and so I dipped my toes in a few different things, actually, quantum memories, quantum optics, and ended up in quantum computing for my PhD because I felt that it was, it was more applied. In a way, I felt that, I was interested in, seeing, seeing how you could turn the technology into something with wider, impact.

and that kind of became also a threat, in my path after, after research, because I felt that in academia, I loved doing science, but I felt I wanted to be a bit closer to, first of all, closer to people. and, and that's where, a lot of my outreach efforts fit in. So I really felt, a need to bring the science out of the lab and, to educate people in society and to talk, about science to everyone, really a variety of different people.

and, at the same time to really feel a strong impact, of my research and of my work on society. And so from the PhD in academia. I then moved to the NQCC, where my role was really focused on actually the applications of quantum computing, and how quantum computing could, might impact, our everyday life, when, once it's realized as a technology.

and so there I really worked with, with end users in, in various sectors, financial sector, energy, chemistry, et cetera, to, really try to start. educating them and identifying early use cases. And, then the next step, which is in, now in venture capital, again, feels to me going even, let's say feeling that I can really support the, cutting edge innovators.

in quantum tech today. and so again, I feel that, I'm following this path towards a strong impact in the field of quantum. but very much, I think, coming from the roots of the ancient Greek philosophers, I've always, I always had this kind of dual, dual soul in a way. The scientist and the more, Like the one more driven by humanities and thinking about, things like ethics, but also things like philosophy, etc.

[00:08:44] Sebastian Hassinger: Scott Aaronson has a book called quantum computing since Democritus, but I thought he was the only person who connected Democritus to quantum computing. Turns out he's not. Very cool. And it's such a

[00:08:56] Kevin Rowney: great story, Kinar, because there's such a huge trend out here in the U. S. Probably out your way too on kids.

Just so many of them marching down the STEM education pathway and they're told to dismiss the humanities and just focus on, the math and the engineering, the physics, but here you are starting deep in the humanities and then, making fantastic use of that background.

[00:09:19] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah, I think definitely that's a, that's an Italian thing, because I think in Italy we're still, we, science, sciences are very strong, in academia, also a high school level and so forth, but we are really deeply rooted in humanities and art and so forth, and literature is still the major core.

Yeah. Subjects that you will learn, but I always enjoyed that. I always enjoyed having such a 360 education, let's say, in such a wide, depth of education, not just, focusing already at high school on three topics. I had 11 subjects in high school.

[00:09:59] Sebastian Hassinger: Very good. That's awesome. That's awesome.

Yeah. And it that, definitely explains, your strength as a science communicator. I think that. That, I've read a bunch of, your Medium posts, for example, and you're drawn to trying to, provide better, explanations and analogies and metaphors to try to get across concepts in a really powerful way.

And in fact, there was a Medium post, where you laid out the history of trapped ions, And as a quantum computing technology, which was the impetus to get you on the podcast, we've had, some guests previously talk about trapped ion quantum computing, but more at the level of what's the latest in terms of the, implementations and not so much on the foundations of how trapped ions work.

And I think. For me, like you, you just referenced sort of the philosophical, when you're dealing with quantum technologies that are manipulating, subatomic particles, it's almost inescapably philosophical. It's philosophical by its own nature. It's like, how are you doing this with something that you can't see?

So, can you, take us through a little bit of the history of how ion trapping came to be?

[00:11:21] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah, of course, with pleasure. so I think that's, that's really interesting in general. I love to go and dig out, how certain technologies, have ended up being, developed.

and it turns out that there's always a very surprising, interesting facts and the kings in history that push one thing versus another. and I think with quantum obviously, uh, quantum mechanics and all the, the theory around it was developed, basically about a hundred years ago, right?

With Einstein and Planck and Bohr, et cetera. but I think the, it was really around 40 years later that A few extremely important experimental pieces came together to really propel the development of quantum technologies. And on one side, is, is the way that, people started to basically look into how they could manipulate these subatomic particles, right?

And the history of trapped ions actually starts with, with manipulating electrons. so basically manipulating electricity in a way. and there, the really, the initial, developments were in the 1930s, 40s, um, with the Well, the pioneer in the field, which was a researcher from the Netherlands, Michael Penning, who was looking at how gas was discharging.

And so that's basically like the same effects that you have when you have lightning in the sky when there's a storm, or when you touch your car and you get a spark that's discharged. And so I was trying to understand how can he how can, control that and affect that in different, situations, different temperature, different pressure?

and he stumbled upon a way to basically accelerate beams of electrons through magnetic fields. and interestingly, the reason, so he was looking into this for lamps to develop new lamps. And that was the context at the time. and then in the same years, there were, in following years, there were researchers in the U S but also many in Germany, the kind of follow followed on the steps of looking at how to, really manipulate electrons with these magnetic fields and also with electric fields.

[00:13:59] Sebastian Hassinger: Yeah. Would that have been Tied all the way back to the discovery, the experimental proof of the existence of the electron, which would be JJ Thompson, right? that was a similar kind of experiment back in the late 19th century, I believe, where it was a stream of electrons.

manipulating with magnetic fields and showing that there was something smaller than hydrogen

[00:14:21] Chiara Decaroli: atoms, basically. Yes. Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yes. so those are really the roots, right? and, yeah. And then, then, we, had, these researchers, especially in Germany, with Demelt, they were really looking into, creating.

an actual trap. So not just an accelerator of electron beams, but something that could hold them in a confined area. and, initially the, the way to do that was with a combination of, magnetic fields and electric fields, until, A German scientist came along, Wolfgang Paul, which, came up with a proposal to do this without a magnetic field.

So simply using electric fields. And this was really the birth, then, of the ion trap as we know it today. that utilizes a combination of, static and oscillating electric fields and doesn't need a strong magnet. so we have these two, the very original way of trapping, charge particles, which is the Penning, trap in honor of the original Penning, in the Netherlands.

and then we have the, what we call the pole trap, which is the, one that doesn't need magnetic, fields, but just, electric fields. And which is the way that we implement the majority of, of ion traps today. Although there's also, some Penning traps still around.

[00:15:52] Sebastian Hassinger: So interesting.

And so the initial experimental setup is a stream of electrons and then the challenge becomes how do you stop the stream and just, pick out a, single or not an electron, sorry, a stream of ions and stop a single ion and hold it in a trap. And that trap is, electromagnetic in nature, is that

[00:16:16] Chiara Decaroli: right?

Yes, correct. And you're right. Initially, there were electrons, exactly. And then later on, there were ions, so charged atoms. and this actually, these devices were utilized as mass spectrometers. So they were utilized to basically accelerate the stream of charged atoms and deflect these beams.

And basically, the deflection would depend on the ratio of the mass and the charge. And so you would be able to extract the mass, from the various substances that you were looking in. So that's

[00:16:53] Sebastian Hassinger: such an interesting example of that kind of peering down into the subatomic level and figuring out a way to manipulate something you can't see or touch or, interact with directly.

So, in other words, the, strength of the field. would produce a deflection on the beam, that would give you, an indication of what the mass of those particles in that beam, is, right? Is that correct? Yes. Yes, that's right. in other words, this is almost an example of, of quantum metrology in a sense, in a very rudimentary way that leads to computing, which we've, we've, had other guests mentioned that how metrology is intrinsically connected with computing.

It's really interesting.

[00:17:37] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah, indeed. Absolutely. and then, as I was saying earlier, this is just about trapping, right? So this is one ingredient, to, towards really fully manipulating individual subatomic particles, holding them in space and be able to control their position. But the other ingredient that also was invented at the same time in the fifties, was the laser.

And I think the laser was really, the invention that unlocked the ability, not just to trap the particles that in this case, the charged, atoms, but also to actually, control individual, the electronic states, within this, within these atoms, and to then perform operations later on.

and so one of the first step, that, that we utilized, to, basically go beyond just trapping the ions, was using lasers to, Cool, we say using laser cooling, the ions themselves, and this will allow us to basically, take, take a certain atom, charge it, make it into an ion, and then, lower it to the lowest energy state, of this, of this ion.

And that's

[00:19:00] Kevin Rowney: some interesting physics right there, right? the idea that somehow shooting a laser at something could cool it down. for Many of our audience members, that seems counterintuitive, but yeah, let's, let me, let's just dig into that a little bit. how is that possible that the impact of new photons on that system could cool the item down?

[00:19:19] Chiara Decaroli: Yes. this is all about the exchange of, the momentum between the laser beam and, and the atoms or the ions. and so depending on the direction that the laser hits. the ions, then you can effectively have the fact that the ions get slowed down or they lose energy. and therefore they come to the lowest energy state or their ground state as we call it.

[00:19:48] Kevin Rowney: And the fine tuning of the frequency of the laser to be exactly in sync with the vibrations of the target. like a resonator. It can absorb that energy somehow. It's, an aggressively counterintuitive idea, but really, cool.

[00:20:02] Chiara Decaroli: Yes, exactly. And that was really, really the stepping stone.

and then very soon after, the demonstrations of the, of laser cooling that came from Dave Wineland, an Nobel prize winner in the field. Who had

[00:20:17] Sebastian Hassinger: studied with DEMO as I, I discovered, right? He actually, so he actually. I think there's a new study at University of Washington under DEMILT, I believe, who you mentioned before, so it's an unbroken path.

Yeah, exactly. Absolutely,

[00:20:30] Chiara Decaroli: very much in trapped ions. and yes, after that, and now we are by now around the eighties, nineties, The first theoretical proposals on how to, how to do quantum computing, in general, what is a quantum computer. And then the first, actual proposals on how to implement a quantum computer with trapezoids.

this was a paper that came in the, in the nineties, in 1995 by, Sirach and Zoller that was really about how to implement the first gates on trapezoids using laser beams.

[00:21:08] Sebastian Hassinger: It's such a great example of the interplay between theory and experimentalists as well, because, Serac and Zoller, I believe, were in Colorado, at the University of Colorado Boulder, which is closely affiliated with NIST, so they were interacting with the experimentalists at NIST quite a bit, so Dave Wineland, after doing the laser cooling, was wor and this, and also, it's interesting, that's all in the service of timekeeping, right?

So the trapped ion work that was happening at NIST at that point was much more, again, metrology. They were trying to measure time. and Serac and Zoller theoretically think, okay, here's a way that you could potentially implement gates. And within months, Wineland and Chris Monroe have carried out the, essence of that paper because they were working so closely together on a, on almost a daily or whatever, a fairly frequently basis.

it's such an interesting story. but, that first experiment. using lasers to cool down to the ground state, is one thing, but then making that leap to how do you use, light to affect the state of the ion in a way that you can perform logical operations seems like a, another huge leap.

So how does that work? At least on the initial Sirag Zola theory.

[00:22:32] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah, absolutely. and I completely agree. Exactly. the way that we instill today, by the way, using laser beams is one of the main methods that we have to control and to perform logical operations on trapped ions.

and so we typically, do two, two types of operations, single qubit operations, where we have a single ion, and we shine a laser to it. And these, these, laser. light is tuned, as Kevin was saving, saying earlier to a certain, to a certain transition, within the, electronic states of the ion.

and this allows us to basically rotate, the state, of the ions. so for example, moving the ion from a state. zero to a state one. and then we have, we have two qubit gates, that we also do by shining lasers, but this time we shine lasers on two ions that are, trapped in close vicinity.

So we say they're trapped within the same, potential well, and the way to think about this, in much of, trapped ions, in the way that we trap the ions today boils down to creating. wells that can hold several ions. and the way to think about this is, for example, having, I always use an algebra ball, like a salad bowl, and you have, the ions are balls that sit at the bottom of this ball.

and now when you do a two qubit gate, you have two balls that are within the same ball. and, and you shine the laser so that, the laser can, affect both, ions at the same time and they become coupled and entangled because they are sitting in close vicinity.

[00:24:26] Kevin Rowney: Oh, that's interesting. so somehow that the two trapped ions are maneuvered into close proximity and two adjacent potential wells bring them together.

and then one beam is striking both objects at the same time, creating that Multi gate effect. is that a fair summary? yes.

[00:24:43] Chiara Decaroli: Oh, so interesting. That's a two qubit gate versus a single qubit gate that just, is just a

[00:24:48] Kevin Rowney: laser beam hitting. Like a CNOT gate. you're, exactly.

You're doing an interchange, an entanglement operation. I, that was one of my key questions. I really appreciate that. Thank you. And then for the Hadamard gate and, single gate operations, yeah, I guess there's just one resonant frequency. it's not really, Rotating the physical ion.

It's rather rotating abstractly in its state space, right? For a yes, absolutely. Rearrangement of the probabilities of, the different superpositions of possible states.

[00:25:16] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah. Yeah. And in, yeah, in quantum computing, we typically, as opposed to classical computing, where we just have, we encode the information in two beats, zero and one.

Yes. in quantum computing, we encon the information on, zeroes. This, the quantum state zero, the quantum state one, and these, we can think about them sitting at the, on a sphere at the North Pole and on the, at the South Pole. Yeah, the

[00:25:41] Kevin Rowney: Bloch sphere, yes, this abstract way to represent these, yeah.

[00:25:44] Chiara Decaroli: Exactly, and so then we can just, hit a certain point on the sphere by, by utilizing the right, laser intensity frequency.

[00:25:55] Sebastian Hassinger: And is the preparation of the ion, getting it down to the ground state, Does that correlate with sort of the zero state as well, or is that just, okay.

Because there's different attributes within the

[00:26:08] Chiara Decaroli: ion. yes. we, so that, at the beginning of any sequence, we want to be able to initialize, our qubits, in a specific state, for example, state zero, and then exactly we can utilize a single qubit gate to initialize it, and then we can perform follow on operations on, that.


[00:26:30] Sebastian Hassinger: Very cool. Very cool. And I think the, initial Sirach Zoller gate operations then were improved upon by Molmer and Sorensen gates, which is the standard operation now for, trapped ions, right? that's more efficient or easier to, to manage. And again, this sort of goes back to my central sort of mystery here is you just described, Ions as balls, sitting in the bottom of a bowl.

Those are all physical metaphors that have no bearing whatsoever to what's happening at a subatomic level. They're just, they're just the ways that we try to understand. but in practical terms, the. What it takes to try to create those two, isolate two things you can't see in one physical proximity to each other.

It's just, I like, I think about that, like just the challenge of trying to work out the technique of doing that must have been so many hours of trial and error and experimentation. It's really amazing. I actually, in a conversation with Chris Monroe, he told me that in the very early days of the ion trapping at NIST, that he was involved in.

they would spend hours and hours trying to find the ion in the trap because they weren't sure where exactly it was. Oh, so painful. hunting around for, for, long periods of time looking for it, Yes,

[00:28:00] Chiara Decaroli: and indeed, I would say, exactly, anyone that. And this was much of my PhD thesis was a story exactly like that, where anyone that comes up with a new trap, a new novel type of ion trap, has to go through a period where they have this new trap that of course they've simulated very carefully.

They think they understand quite well, but then this trap is inserted into a vacuum chamber or a cryostat with all sorts of, different types of noise that are in this kind of environment. and then you need all the optics. So all the laser beams that you use to, as we said, do a single and two qubit gates, but also to laser cool, initialize, et cetera.

And all these elements need to all be. Functioning perfectly for you to be able to write for you to be able to trap the ion at the position that you think is balanced,

[00:28:59] Kevin Rowney: right? Just exactly.

[00:29:00] Chiara Decaroli: Yeah, yes. And to have all your optics aligned to that position and then to have all your imaging optics for which you, you image the photons and you actually see if the ion is there or not.

And so in reality, you spend. often, several months debugging every single possible source that is, it might be just a little bit off, that is preventing you from having the ion there and trapped. And sometimes it's there and trapped, but you, your imaging system is misaligned. And so you don't see it, even if it's trapped there for, days.

and so it's really a, it's really a challenge. It's a complex challenge. Yeah.

[00:29:42] Sebastian Hassinger: And that sort of, is a very interesting segue into the hat that you're wearing now, which is Venture Capital. So there's. Implicit strengths of trapped ion systems, I can't remember who said it first, nature's perfect qubits, right?

Every atom is exactly the same. They all behave the same. You don't have any kind of fabrication defects to worry about. But what you just described, not only are there a lot of very precise elements in the overall system, but also, optics are, we don't have on chip single photon sources or, laser, photonic sources yet, that, so there's limits to the miniaturization, and fabrication at scale for trapped ions, and then there's also the speed of gate operations versus superconducting, so there's practical concerns apart from the scientific factors to this.

Merits. and when you think about, the landscape now of startups and this quest has turned science into technology, into applied tools. How do you think about evaluating, those types of strengths and weaknesses in the underlying techniques of making qubits?

[00:30:56] Chiara Decaroli: Yes, I think this is a very challenging topic, and for a few reasons, but I think in typically, generally quantum, quantum physics is a very tough topic, right?

Extremely technical, you get, you can become very specialized in a very narrow field very easily, very quickly. and what typically happens is that researchers, stick to one topic. And so someone that has done a PhD in Traptions will go on as a postdoc, as a professor in Traptions.

And so they end up with a reasonably biased view on the field. And so when it's very tough because when you want to, is let's say you're now an external person and you want to go in, and, probe and, understand more and discuss with the experts. the experts will have the view that is very, biased towards their background, and it's, and they don't have, often expertise on a different, technology platform, even if it's a close by,

[00:32:02] Kevin Rowney: right?

It's a common phenomena within the sciences you see all the time. competing tribes of sub specialization that not only have a rivalry, but also they even have Incompatible vocabulary.

[00:32:16] Sebastian Hassinger: you don't spend months debugging, uh, an ion trap to make it work and then go it's okay.

[00:32:25] Chiara Decaroli: yes.

but I think to be honest, I think that, all the platforms in quantum computing. have still a long way to go towards scalability. It's not a, it's not a problem of trapezoids. And as you say, yeah, I think generally speaking, the trapezoids and neutral atoms as well, they share this advantage of having the perfect qubits just because they are perfect by nature.

as opposed to the qubits that are artificially made by humans that will always be more prone to, to errors and to be, not indistinguishable from each other. but then, yeah, really, I think the, and this takes a lot of time to really look into the devil. The devil is in the detail, I would say.

So look into the details of the platforms and what that sort of bottlenecks you find in each. And sometimes, as I say, it's very tough because you have the coloring that comes from, all those different aspects. So people that need to push a certain technology or that, yeah, need to win proposals and so forth.

and, but I think that trapped ions, probably their, main disadvantage is the, the speed of operations, which is slow. But on the other topics, I would say that they are, they excel in fidelity. so the fidelity operation, I think is the best in, ions. And I think they, they have shown that many technological, devices can be integrated on chip.

So even though people typically say they are not scalable, many of, many of, so the lasers, the photonic systems, but also the electronics has now been shown that it can be integrated in CMOS compatible chips. So it's actually maybe one of the most CMOS compatible platforms out there. compared to the other

[00:34:27] Kevin Rowney: ones, that's interesting.

It's just in terms of mass manufacturer, it's got immense capacity for scale. there's still perhaps critiques on scalability with respect to the number of interactions that you can conveniently arrange between qubits, but in terms of, manufacturer, vastly superior, right?

[00:34:46] Chiara Decaroli: Absolutely. And my PhD actually was, I was focusing on two projects. one was basically an artisanal trap that was extremely complex, that was made of silica glass. So this was stacking multiple wafers of silica that were, where we could, engineer the shape of the electrodes, in a very precise manner, with high power laser.

and this was a trap that had two X junctions. So one way of scaling trapped ions is to using, basically, two dimensional arrays where the ions are not just held in a string, but they can move in two dimensions. So I really like a junction, a traffic junction where you're driving with your car and you can turn left, or go straight.

And so I implemented this trap with two junction, which in principle could have held, 100, 100 to 100 ions. and it was extremely complex, extremely challenging. Spent more than two years in the clean room doing this by hand, myself, on my own. So very, not reproducible. but I think it just shows that, that, how far you can go with one PhD student in, in, in a lab, right?

and, and still have a decent result. And the other project, was. also towards scalability and trying to push the limits, right? that, that was the storyline of the projects. And it was a, collaboration with a large foundry called Infineon Technologies, which is operating in the EU in Germany, Austria, and basically trying to find a foundry process to create ion traps.

and now they are, they have actually a division, that, that, makes and ships ion traps through their commercial foundry. and so that's just to say, yes, often we hear ions are not scalable, but actually in truth, I think there are many elements can be scalable and are very compatible to existing fabrication techniques.

I think the control. is what is hard to scale up. and there again, there's lots of strides because we have the traditional way of doing, single and two qubit gates, which is with laser beams, but there's also, nowadays, utilized technology, which is microwaves instead, and then microwaves can also be embedded in the chip, that, traps the ions.

[00:37:30] Sebastian Hassinger: Yeah, I've talked to an ion trap startup that's doing exactly that they talk about having an embedded antenna underneath the trap essentially and using that for control. So that would confer some sort of advantage in speed. Or is that what the idea is? Okay.

[00:37:46] Chiara Decaroli: Yes. I think, yeah, I think microwave, gates are faster.


[00:37:52] Kevin Rowney: So this is an interesting juncture, perhaps a lead into, talking about a transition in the conversation and the interesting dynamics surrounding venture capital in this space. I, understand you're, fairly deeply involved with that very profession right now. There must be very unique challenges with, Then investing in early stage ventures. already a very. high risk, high hazard, and non relaxing activity for any startup technology, but specifically in quantum. wow, that's, extra. So help us understand. how do you think about this space in terms of the relative merit?

right, of possible targets of investment.

[00:38:34] Chiara Decaroli: Yes. obviously, I'm fairly new first of all, to, to the world of venture capital. and I should say that we, focus not just on quantum computing, at Redstone, but also on sensing and communication. So it's even wider. Oh, fantastic. But yes, I very much, I think, my methodology is to try to be very close to, to the newest developments in the field, to try to be very close to the, to academia and, to, try to understand really the reality of the progress of the, of the results.

Because obviously, one thing is listening to the startups, which need to sell themselves. And one thing is having, the frank conversations on where really are the bottlenecks and what are the big challenges in a specific topic and field. But generally speaking, there are many challenges, right?

Because what I see now, and one question that By the way, I also get asked quite a lot is when is the right time to invest in, in quantum? And it's a very hard question, to answer because I think we've seen in the last few years, definitely that the number of startups has, really, raised a lot.

and there's a lot of momentum. There's a lot of, the markets are starting to form a little bit, but it's very early. But with investment, I think you want to be

[00:40:13] Kevin Rowney: early. You do, but the timing is so crucial and it does feel as if there's many people within the community who felt as if that first wave, that first prominent wave of investment was way premature, that perhaps the technologies were not ready to go.

but getting the timing, it's, it's so crucial. being on the tip end of the trend up, man, it's, it's the whole game.

[00:40:38] Sebastian Hassinger: and, it seems to me like the, it's. It's extra challenging in quantum because in classical computing, classical technologies, there's some kind of benchmarking of what do increments of engineering take, right?

You can, develop almost an intuition of the example I always give is like you see the Apple Newton and you go that's interesting. It's not really useful, but someday this will be the iPhone and you can extrapolate, that'll take, I don't know, five to 10 years, right?

You can calibrate and you can see. See the incremental progress, whereas here, it's so much more a scientific domain. and there's going to be, just, the fact that someone with your background is required to help, make the assessments. It's not, that, that implies like a very, deep expertise required to even, understand what's coming out of the labs.


[00:41:33] Kevin Rowney: even the basics of just for figuring out the talent. who is, asking for investment is, sufficient for the technical objectives ahead and the suitability of the architecture. you just get an MBA and, find a job on Sand Hill road, but you really, you need a PhD and higher in your domain to just to do basic assessment.

It's a challenging

[00:41:55] Sebastian Hassinger: area. That's a question for, like, how, what, did you, coming from your background with ion trapping, what did you have to do to get that level of familiarity with superconducting and other modalities of qubits that are competing for your attention as a VC?

[00:42:14] Chiara Decaroli: Yes, very much, reading as much as I can, talking to as many people as I can in the field. that's, it. There's no way around it, I think. And just, and there's a lot of learning, right? because as I said, we, in academia at least, we're trained to be very specialized in our narrow field.

and one thing that I like about this job is that you have to quite go very deep, but also very wide. it's challenging, but it's very, interesting. Yeah. But always try to look at, always try to have a neutral viewpoint and not too biased, from. my specific background, and try to basically extrapolate things from my background that I can then apply to the other modalities.

so for example, noise, right? Assessing noise, which is a very common topic, on all the platforms or assessing control and how do you do control or, defabrication and what are the fabrications challenges and limits. And these are topics that are, more, more common, to all platforms.

[00:43:29] Kevin Rowney: Yeah. The technical due diligence, just the basic due diligence of technology must be, impossibly hard.

[00:43:36] Sebastian Hassinger: It's hard. So, if we can, one last pivot, to wrap up the conversation. So at the NQCC, you were deeply involved in sort of user engaging, outreach, right? Community building, workforce development.

skill building. Now in your position in, investing. Do you have a perspective of, what types of skills you'd like to see more focus on either at the, the cross training, professional training or at the foundational sort of, even starting as early as middle school or high school kind of level?

Do you have a view on that?

[00:44:15] Chiara Decaroli: Yes, I think it's quite, there's a lot of interesting avenues here, actually, that you touched on. But generally, I think, I think the nature of the work that the startups are still doing today. I know that, many people would say there's not much physics left to do, but I'm not so sure about that.

And even if it's a lot of engineering, I do feel that often, someone looks at it, it's an engineering problem, but then turns out that there's a lot of physics. That needs to be understood at the root of the problem. And, and so I think that to, to address that, you really need PhDs or people that are highly skilled and, had extensive training in, In maybe it's a quantum engineering, maybe it's not just trapdials or whatever.

and, and then generally speaking, I think the field of quantum, technologies, I would say is extremely multidisciplinary. and you see it a lot now when. you have the companies that do full stack, where they go from all the way from, actually building the quantum system. So there you need the quantum physicists, but then a lot of control engineering, optical engineering, systems engineering, and then going up the layers.

So you have the layers that are, more software layers. So you need, software engineers, computer scientists, and all the way to the applications. And once you get to the applications, wow, that's difficult because you need to basically have people that have deep knowledge on the impact, fields.

bit, chemistry or pharmaceutical or finance and so you really need to then be able to mix, have this blend of talent that has the deep knowledge of physics and quantum physics and of the specialized segment. And I think that's, one of the big challenges. And then of

[00:46:26] Sebastian Hassinger: course on top of the entire stack.

philosophy, and the rest of the humanities. Maybe that helps, right? A

[00:46:35] Kevin Rowney: calling for almost polymath level talent to really set themselves against these problems, yeah. Not easy. Yeah,

[00:46:42] Chiara Decaroli: not easy. And yeah, I think that's to me it's, there are the topics, the usual topics as when should we educate, about quantum at which level of the, of the education, path, early, not so early, and so forth.

But I do think that The big thing for me is multidisciplinarity in general, rather than educating specifically on quantum, but having more of this cross pollination between the fields. and, yeah, obviously it's great if we can, fascinate more people with quantum because I, I shared this fascination and I think it's an incredibly interesting topic, but it's very, it's really deep tech.

It's a, close to sci fi, right? Maybe one day, obviously, I think that the potential for impact is immense, right? but, but I often think that we can never predict it because we could never predict that we would be having this conversation through our laptops when the first computers were invented, right?

And were made of vacuum tubes. but I think that the first, at least in the first realization, quantum computers will be much like supercomputing, resources, right? So they will stay in these data centers, and, people will access them through the cloud. And, so yeah, I think. not so many, not so many kids, in high school or earlier today are learning about HPC.

[00:48:26] Sebastian Hassinger: And no,

[00:48:28] Kevin Rowney: right, Yeah. This has been really cool.

[00:48:31] Sebastian Hassinger: Yeah. very enjoyable conversation. Thank you. Appreciate this

[00:48:35] Chiara Decaroli: time. I enjoyed it very much as well. Oh, I'm glad. I hope that the listeners will find a

[00:48:41] Sebastian Hassinger: few, a few. Oh, I'm here too. I'm serious. Thank you so

[00:48:44] Chiara Decaroli: much.

[00:49:28] Kevin Rowney: that was fun. That was really great. I really, there's so much in this that was, entertaining. I got to tell you though, I really appreciated her, her point about how they, the underlying science history leading up to these major discoveries. In my mind, it really elucidates the, with powerful clarity, how to see these concepts, these formidable abstractions.

with greater depth and understanding. if you just try to, look at the current literature on this stuff, it's a little bit challenging, a little bit overwhelming. So seeing the lead up of the sequence of ideas, how they built to, the final result. It's a good example of how science history can inform science understanding.

[00:50:06] Sebastian Hassinger: That's right. Yeah, I think that's a really good point, Kevin. I really enjoyed the conversation as well. And Ion Traps, I find one of the most fascinating examples of, how the pursuit of, curiosity driven science and experimental physics. has, one experiment, one sort of insight, one breakthrough after another building up to this long progression of, of devices and techniques that ended up being a perfect platform for qubits, right?

And, the, origins around, JJ Thompson's, experimental validation of the existence of electrons and then, Robbie, using, Building off of Stern Gerlach and building these beams of ions to, to do, spectrometry and, using the deflection to understand how the mass to energy ratios are.

All of that's just so interesting. And then of course it sets the stage for Wineland and Monroe to experimentally validate the CERAC solar paper and the idea of using. ions in, an ion trap to, to represent qubits. It's just a, it's a great narrative story. And so many great

[00:51:22] Kevin Rowney: minds making contributions towards this really interesting current moment

[00:51:27] Sebastian Hassinger: we live in.

Yeah, absolutely. And it also, It's really interesting. Kara's got such a broad educational background starting in philosophy, and the classics and humanities, yeah, it's such a great, deviation from the norm and I think sets her up really well to leveraged her deep, PhD expertise from ETH, in her role now of doing technical due diligence and assessing the merits of the various startups that they're thinking about investing in.

It's just a testament to how much skill it takes to actually play that role in, in the quantum computing field compared to what you're used to or I'm used to.

[00:52:07] Kevin Rowney: A formidable job doing due diligence on a quantum, computing technology startup, man, that's a high bar to

[00:52:15] Sebastian Hassinger: clear right there. Absolutely. It's more than just the normal founder bias.

It's actually, different schools of scientific thinking, superconducting qubits, artificial atoms are the best. and, in ion traps, you've got your nature makes perfect qubits. And how do you discern between those types of claims without the kind of expertise that Kiara brings to the table?

It's, it's quite cool. Super fun. Good stuff. Thanks a lot. Awesome. Thank you.

[00:52:46] Kevin Rowney: Okay. That's it for this episode of The New Quantum Era, a podcast by Sebastian Hassinger and Kevin Roney. Our cool theme music was composed and played by Omar Costa Hamido. Production work. It was done by our wonderful team over at Podfi. If you are at all like us and enjoy this rich, deep, and interesting topic, please subscribe to our podcast on whichever platform you may stream from.

And even consider, if you like what you've heard today, reviewing us on iTunes and or mentioning us on your preferred social media platforms. We're just trying to get the word out on this fascinating topic and would really appreciate your help spreading the word and building community. Thank you so much for your time.

Creators and Guests

Sebastian HassingeršŸŒ»
Sebastian HassingeršŸŒ»
Business development #QuantumComputing @AWScloud Opinions mine, he/him.
Chiara Decaroli
Chiara Decaroli
Dr. Decaroli earned her PhD at ETH Zurich, focusing on the physics of ion traps. She lead user engagement for the UK's National Quantum Computing Center and is now an Investment Manager with Redstone VC, a deep tech fund.
Omar Costa Hamido
Omar Costa Hamido
OCH is a performer, composer, and technologist, working primarily in multimedia and improvisation. His current research is on quantum computing and music composition, telematics, and multimedia. He is passionate about emerging technology, cinema, teaching, and performing new works. He earned his PhD in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology at University of California, Irvine with his research project Adventures in Quantumland ( He also earned his MA in Music Theory and Composition at ESMAE-IPP Portugal with his research on the relations between music and painting. In recent years, his work has been recognized with grants and awards from MSCA, Fulbright, FundaĆ§Ć£o para a CiĆŖncia e a Tecnologia, Medici, Beall Center for Art+Technology, and IBM.
Trapped Ions and Quantum VCs with Chiara Decaroli
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