"It's a great challenge to help build a whole new ecosystem."

Thorsten Last is a senior system engineer in the Quantum Technology department. At TNO, his background in academia and his experience in the semiconductor industry come together in a challenging new project: building a working quantum computer.

"Our Quantum Technology department's job is to take quantum technology to a usable level. A lot of this work is being done within QuTech, a partnership between TNO and TU Delft. I'm part of Quantum Inspire, the team that's building a quantum computer prototype. As lead system engineer, I am part of a group of colleagues who are jointly responsible for the chip, setting up the hardware and the infrastructure around it.

I joined TNO three years ago after a career at university and in the semiconductor industry where I have always been looking for ways to make processors smaller. The question has always been: how small can you make it? In addition, I have been involved with quantum technology throughout my career. After five years in the semiconductor industry, I felt I was ready to contribute to the development of a completely new technology. We're now at the exciting point where quantum technology is leaving the university realm and it's time to create the first actual applications."

FROM UNIVERSITY TO SEMICONDUCTOR INDUSTRY TO TNO

"I studied physics at the Ruhr University of Bochum. My PhD was on nanotechnology. Through a post-doc at the University of Groningen I ended up at the University of California in Berkeley, where I got a position as a researcher. Then, of course, I was working close to Silicon Valley, and at one point I switched to the semiconductor industry. There I saw that the current microchip technology will come to an end in ten years' time.

At the same time, I saw that TU Delft was on the right track with a promising replacement. Something totally new that could signal a breakthrough. So when I heard from former colleagues that they needed a system engineer at TNO for the QuTech project, I jumped at that chance. Now I have returned to my roots in research and development, but with a focus on the application. Add to that my academic past in nanotechnology and this job is perfect for me! Moreover, it's a great challenge to help build a new industry and a new ecosystem around it - which you can already see emerging in Delft."

ONLY THE PROJECT IS DIFFERENT

"I already have extensive senior-level experience, so I know how it works with project structures and deadlines. TNO is well organised in that respect. It's actually the same kind of development environment with the same procedures and well-defined tasks - only the project is different! I also go to congresses to talk about our project and to get in touch with colleagues and experts from all over the world. TNO also invites me to be active at that high level."

PLAYING A ROLE IN GROWTH

"My working day is never really over. Even though the work is done, in the evening I often think about presentations or other things. I love this job! It's great that I have the opportunity to build something together with my colleagues that is not yet fully developed. I definitely see myself working here in the coming years. QuTech is a relatively new department that still needs to grow, become stronger and more visible. I'd like to play a part in that. Especially by connecting people with different areas of expertise. That’s when you get the best results."

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