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Dialogue, collaboration and quantum: opening academic year Faculty of Science

With a call for dialogue and collaboration, vice dean Bart de Smit kicked off the new academic year for the Faculty of Science on Tuesday 3 September. Theoretical physicist Carlo Beenakker outlined the possibilities of quantum as a disruptive technology.

For the first two weeks of September, The Faculty of Science has to do without a dean: the old dean said goodbye on 29 August, Hubertus Irth will be acting as interim dean starting on 15 September. 'At the moment I am also missing a dean', vice dean Bart de Smit jokes at the facultary opening of the academic year in a full lecture room C1. Then with his audience, he looks back at the past academic year, and also looks ahead.

Student numbers rising

Starting with his own portfolio: education. The number of students  at the faculty continues to rise: around 1300 new bachelors students will start this academic year; in 2018 there were around 1000. The faculty also expects more than 300 new international students in September, and the new masters programme Governance of Sustainability start off with 50 students.

Bart de Smit

Artificial intelligence and liveableplanet

After presenting the new assessor Bas Schaalje with a film clip, De Smit touches on the faculty's chosen profiling areas: artificial intelligence and a viable planet. Institutes also worked together last year on sector plans, with the ambitious goal of getting 50% women into the 22 new scientific positions.

The scientists from the faculty did impressive research and participated fully in the allocation of NWO and ERC funds. The ERC Advanced Grant for physicist Carlo Beenakker stood out; it was the second in his career. This time he will use the prestigious grant to investigate entangled Majorana particles.

Fail better

However, at the same time there are many more research applications that are not awarded, says De Smit. He consoles those applicants with a quote from writer Samuel Beckett: 'You try again. You fail again. You fail better.' De Smit: 'What matters is that first sentence: you try again.'

De Smit discusses the funding proposals of the Van Rijn committee and the protagonist against these proposals, 'fearless' Leiden professor of Korean studies Remco Breuker. Also KNAW president Wim van Saarloos discussed funding issues in his annual speech, in which De Smit points out a large financial gap. 'The keywords for all of you are therefore dialogue and cooperation. In the political context, but also internally, if, for example, we get in each other's way with overbooked lecture halls. Let's be more friendly, let's be more fearless, and if we fail, let’s fail better than we did last year.'

Carlo Beenakker

Quantum as disruptive technology

Professor of Theory of condensed matter Carlo Beenakker follows up with an optimistic story. The upcoming decade promises extremely exciting new research opportunities, he says. One of the research areas where breakthroughs are to be expected is quantum technology, he predicts. A disruptive technology, to quote Robbert Dijkgraaf.

'Quantum technology has arrived,' Beenakker states. IBM has quantum computers available with 5 qubits on which people who are interested can do calculations. 'They are not powerful, they crash very often and they make mistakes. Depressing, you would say. But they are here! That in itself is absolutely amazing!' Delft, with which Beenakker works closely together, will soon come up with a quantum computer of 2 qubits that is publicly accessible.

Chemistry and machine learning

A traditional computer bit can be 1 or 0, a quantum bit is 1 and 0. For humans that's difficult to grasp, but it can easily be captured in simple mathematical equations, according to Beenakker. 'With these we can now play and discover things.' Quantum computers will have enormous computing power, but they are suitable for other problems than the current computers. In Leiden, for example, scientists are working on machine learning and chemical applications. 'Molecules speak the quantum language, so you need a quantum computer for that.' The industry also sees these possibilities. 'It is the first time in the existence of the Lorentz Institute that Shell is investing in joint research with us.' To investigate the possibilities of quantum algorithms and bring them to the real world, Beenakker unveils a new website: aqa.universiteitleiden.nl.

Merit Veldhuizen

Music & running for charity

After the lecture by Beenakker, Merit Veldhuizen sings two songs: 'Do you know me' and 'Gimme gimme', about the search for identity, connection with others and making your own choices. Finally, De Smit announces two forthcoming facultary events: the Science Run on 28 September and the Niko Tinbergen lecture, which will resume in 2019 and will take place on 10 December.

After the presentations it's time for drinks

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