The business of science goes on no matter what. We ask questions, try to answer them, fail, rephrase them, try again… And share our results with the world and discuss their implications with our colleagues. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the process goes on; we just have to be more creative when it comes to meetings.
This is how I found my way to the three-day conference Advances in scalable hardware platforms for quantum computing which took place on January 11–13 2021. Originally planning to host it at the Physics centre in Bad Honnef, Germany, the organizers had to move it online because of covid-19. And they did a great job.
The pandemic had been raging for almost a year so this was nothing like the conferences in the spring of 2020. Back then, organizers had often been forced to move online on short notice. Speakers had been able to deliver their talks online, but the usual excitement of meeting new people had been gone. This January, though, after a year of trying and testing various online solutions, we attended a meeting that preserved most advantages of face-to-face meetings.
The scientific program is the most important ingredient of a successful conference. Here, we heard talks on a broad range of topics relevant to quantum computing from experts in their respective fields. The topics ranged from important theoretical aspects to leading experimental platforms and technological progress. Theorists presented the latest work on quantum algorithms and optimal control. Experimentalists described new achievements in controlling trapped ions, superconducting circuits, and quantum dots. Others discussed progress in classical machinery that controls these delicate quantum systems.
With such a broad spectrum of topics, some talks necessarily fall outside one’s area of expertise (and immediate interest). This is, of course, not a bad thing—the conference gave a great overview of the progress towards building quantum computers. But some presentations didn’t, in my view, take the diversity of the audience into account. Spending a few minutes at the beginning placing the work in context can go a long way but not all speakers followed this mantra. If I’m not aware of the technological challenges that quantum dots face, for example, I can’t appreciate the solution a spekaer presents.
The poster session was (as always in Bad Honnef) preceded by poster flash presentations. These short presentations give a nice overview of all posters and allow one to preselect the posters to visit. I find presenting a poster flash presentation rather stressful. But wathing the short talks of others often lets me discover a hidden gem I would otherwise have missed.
The poster session itself was split into three blocks with different authors presenting in each. This meant that the flash sessions weren’t too long (each session was preceded by flash presentations for that session only). The sessions were, however, too short to allow time for many discussions. In face-to-face meetings, this is not a problem; one can look through the posters during breaks. But in the online environment, I found interactions with others too brief.
All these activities were held together using MeetAnyway. The platform provided one virtual environment from which talks, poster sessions, and even free networking were available. Integration with Zoom allowed us to listen to talks using the app we all learned to know so well in the past year. Moving in the environment was simple and informal chats with others were as natural as they can be under these circumstances. I encountered only one problem with the platform: The Zoom installer downloaded every time I entered the virtual auditorium even though I have Zoom installed on my computer.
Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we must try to make the best of it we can. This holds for all aspects of our lives, including online conferences in the middle of a deadly pandemic. The organizers of Advances in scalable hardware platforms for quantum computing did do a great job. We could listen to great talks, present and visit posters, and interact with others like at any other conference. But I still can’t wait to return to in-person meetings. And that is true especially for those organized in Bad Honnef—my visits there have always been great!
(The cover photo shows the Physics Centre in Bad Honnef where the conference was originally planned to take place.)