If you read the press release of science financer the NWO, the Dutch Research Council, that awards the Spinoza Prize every year, all the highlights in the career of the Flemish Professor Lieven Vandersypen (1972) were bunched close together. Even as a PhD Candidate at IBM and Stanford University, Vandersypen had a world first under his belt by demonstrating that using qubits in calculations was not only doable in theory, but in practice too.
There is huge interest in these building blocks of quantum computers and race to be the first to develop one is strong. The hope is that quantum computers use their expected powerful calculation capacity – that overshadows all current super computers – to help solve all sorts of societal issues. NWO writes that it believes that Vandersypen can achieve the ‘big scientific and technological breakthrough needed to turn the potential of quantum computers into reality’.
First in the world
Everything in his career points to him doing so. After earning his doctoral degree, Vandersypen quickly arrived at TU Delft to work as a post-doc with another TU Delft Spinoza Prize laureate, Leo Kouwenhoven. Vandersypen turned his attention from nuclear spins in molecules to electron spins in quantum dots, minute objects composed of a semiconductor material which are subject to the laws of quantum mechanics. According to the NWO press release, these quantum dots resemble transistors and this makes them suitable for integrating high numbers of qubits on chips. Vandersypen was the first person in the world to manipulate these types of individual electron spins using both magnetic and electrical fields. Later on, he was the first to turn quantum algorithms on two of the electron spins and to demonstrate quantum interaction between an electron spin and a microwave light particle.
‘This is a enormous recognition’
Vandersypen has been on NWO’s radar for a long while. From 2003 onwards, he has been awarded one prestigious grant, honorary title and award after the other, attracts scientific talent, and in 2014 was at the birth of the QuTech research institute. This collaboration between TU Delft and TNO attracts many tien of millions of euros in investments from companies and governments (in Dutch). It is this collaboration, says NWO, that makes Vandersypen ‘visionary’.
Laureates at AS
Vandersypen has been the Scientific Director of QuTech since September last year. He took over the position from Prof. Ronald Hanson (in Dutch) who was awarded the Spinoza Prize in 2019. Since then, in 2020, a Spinoza Prize was also awarded to a TU Delft researcher, Professor of Molecular Biophysics Nynke Dekker. In 2018, the honour fell on Professor of Bionanoscience Marileen Dogterom (in Dutch). Even she was not the first Spinoza Prize laureate at the Faculty of Applied Sciences which Vandersypen, Hanson and Dekker are also part of. Cees Dekker (2001), Leo Kouwenhoven (2007), Mike Jetten (2012) and Mark van Loosdrecht (2014) were honoured before them.
The Spinoza Prize brings with it a monetary award of EUR 2.5 million. In an initial response in a QuTech press release, Vandersypen said that he was ‘thrilled and honoured’ to have been awarded the Prize ‘that is an enormous recognition of the work that my whole group has done over the years’. The Spinoza Prize award ceremony will be held on 13 October 2021.
- Read more about the other five Spinoza laureates of 2021 on the NWO website.