Quantum optics internship in Paris: My own big bang theory


About the Author: Supratik Sarkar, a student of Jadavpur University, shares how he grabbed his dream quantum optics internship and got to work in Paris, the city of lights.

I had always been interested in physics and general science but lost my way into engineering. Wishing to break free from the vicious cycle of engineering and researching into my areas of interest, I decided to make good use of my summer vacations. Summer internships not only add to the research skills in the resume and open doors for getting admissions in reputed colleges but also provide experience and rigors of working on a real-time problem, which can enhance our learning to a great extent.

I was introduced to quantum computation and information quite early in college and the topic had gotten me hooked up instantly. I had constantly been following lectures on quantum optics by Prof. Immanuel Bloch and Prof. Wolfgang Ketterle on YouTube (available on MIT OCW), and I had fixed my mind on getting an internship in quantum optics. Thus began the months of preparing applications and resumes and applying for scholarships to pursue an internship. Germany and France were my primary choices, but I didn’t have enough grades for getting the DAAD scholarship (a scholarship for interns in Germany). So, I created a list of laboratories in France working on quantum information and quantum optics and started sending internship applications (my resume with a cover letter) to the professors I wanted to work with. After many rejections, I received an email from the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel (LKB) which was followed up with a short skype session with a professor seasoned in both theoretical and experimental quantum optics. I was asked about my motivation for applying there, my conceptual knowledge, and if I wanted to work in theoretical section or the experimental one. Within an hour, I received an invitation letter from the laboratory. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been selected for the Charpak scholarship which is given to interns in France, but since the lab was providing me a handsome stipend, I decided to go for it.

Before leaving for Paris, I read scientific journals and got acquainted with as many concepts as I could. During my internship, I worked in the theoretical division of the lab under the supervision of a post-doctoral researcher. I shared an informal relationship with the professor; he was friendly and patient. I worked on a formalism based on heralded photon addition and subtraction for which I had to go through a lot of research papers. I had to extend all the acquired data to a special model used in quantum computation known as cluster state computation. This was realized with a lot of modular mathematical calculations and codes to visualise the results obtained from the calculations. This would not have been possible without the constant support of my teammates, who guided me throughout the project. I was humbled by the cooperation and respect I received there in spite of being an undergraduate intern.

I learned newer concepts of physics and mathematics and worked in a quantum optics lab with super cool devices and super-expensive lasers. Apart from that, the internship was also instrumental in teaching me a lot of life lessons. Amidst the beauty of Monalisa and Monet’s water lilies, medieval forts and Egyptian antiquities, Louvre museum and Opera house, Champs de Mars and Eiffel tower, and the colours of its tradition, culture, and rich heritage, I attended the reunion concert of Guns n’ Roses at Stade de France, caught the fireworks on Bastille Day, and visited a few places in Switzerland and Amsterdam. The opportunity to work in a lab that has won the Nobel Prize thrice was overwhelming. The experience that I gathered during these two months is hard to quantify.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast– Ernest Hemingway

Supratik’s journey is quite wonderful, isn’t it? Get moving and check out these cool physics internships that could be a turning point in your life. 

Editor’s note – If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2017 and win cash prizes and goodies worth INR 1 Lac!

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