Kerstin Beer

  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • EQUS
  • Macquarie University
  • Road-tripping Alice to Broome and behind the scenes (2024), around QLD (2023)

What do you do?

I am a physicist, but a theoretical physicist.  This means I don’t have a lab where I do experiments.  Instead, I do experiments in my head or on a computer.  On a typical working day, you will find me coding computer programs, writing calculations with funny-looking symbols on my iPad, or typing some text about new things I found out.  I do research about quantum computers, which are different from the computers you probably know, such as smartphones or laptops.  We are interested in quantum computers because they can compute things that standard computers cannot.  The problem is that we still have many questions about quantum computers, for example, how to build them in a way they work well or what the tasks are they can be used for.  Scientists like me who work in the area of quantum computing try to answer questions like these.

In the past few years I mostly worked on quantum machine learning.  We humans are very good at learning new things.  When we want to train your friend a new trick, for example a handstand, we can show them the trick and ask them to try it out themselves.  Then we can give tips on how they can improve their new skill, and after much training and feedback your friend will be able to do the handstand.  Computers can learn new things as well.  For example, when we aim for a computer to understand what is pictured in a photo, we can show and explain many photos to the computer.  After such training, the computer can name the things depicted in the photo without our help.  Such computer training is called machine learning.  Machine learning can also be done with quantum computers.  I wrote a very long text, my doctoral thesis, about this. 😉

During my studies on quantum machine learning, I also tried out some quantum computers.  Here I could observe a well-known thing: today’s quantum computers make many mistakes when they compute and the results are a little bit wrong.  However, if we know which kind of mistakes are made, we can correct our calculations and get the right answers.  This is called quantum error correction, and I came to Sydney to do research about it.

How did you get to where you are today?

In the first years of my physics studies, I came across Tobias J. Osborne and his research group on quantum information.  I really enjoyed writing my Bachelor’s thesis there, so I stayed for my Master’s thesis and finally did my PhD on “Quantum neural networks”.  After living my whole life in or near Hannover, Germany, I badly wanted to move far away.  I decided to search for postdoc positions in cities close to the sea all over the world.  Visiting Australia was also always a dream of mine.  When I heard about the free postdoc position in Daniel Burgarth’s group in Sydney, I knew this was the one I was searching for.

What do you enjoy doing besides physics?

I have been part of (animal-free) circus groups since I was a child.  To this day my favourite sports are partner acrobatics, aerial silks and practicing handstands.  I also really like photo and video editing, and playing the flute and the cello.  On the weekends I love being outside exploring the unique flora and fauna of Australia.  I’m also passionate about climate activism and veganism.

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