A passion for physics: the story of Francesca Tosto

Her interest in physics blossomed during her final year of high school at Liceo Scientifico ‘G. Peano’ in Cuneo, Italy, thanks to Professor Ettore Lo Nigro, who laid the groundwork.

“Our physics professor introduced modern physics, such as quantum, to us. Listening to him talk about quantum sounded both interesting and difficult. But I was inspired and decided to chart a path in quantum physics,” says a smiling and soft-spoken Francesca.

In a class of 21 students, she was the only female who pursued a career in quantum physics. “After high school, I studied physics at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy for my Bachelor of Physical Engineering and a master’s degree in quantum computation and information.”

Moving to Singapore with purpose

In 2014, Francesca moved from her native country, Italy, to Singapore with her high school boyfriend to pursue their PhDs at the National University of Singapore.

Her master's degree supervisor suggested Singapore because he had worked in Japan for a long time and was well-versed in Asian universities. It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her to visit the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), a Research Centre of Excellence.

“It was a good stay in Singapore because my boyfriend, Alessandro Landra, and I were supportive of each other in life and work. We had a chance to both work in Prof. R.Dumke’s laboratory in Singapore. My boyfriend and I were at the same high school and university in Italy, but we studied different programs,” she says.

After completing her PhD research on ‘Atomtronic Architectures on a Superconducting Atom Chip,’ “I was unsure of what to do next, COVID-19 affected a lot of things. It was quite oppressive and stressful to live with all the restrictions in Singapore. I then had a positive reason to come back to Europe because the COVID-19 situation was getting better, and I was hopeful,” she reveals.

Landing her first job, getting married and loving Finland

“I began looking for a role in a company with my boyfriend in late 2020, and luckily for me, a recruiter at IQM contacted me through LinkedIn (my boyfriend had already applied for a job at IQM).

“My boyfriend and I had an interview at IQM in Finland in September 2020. After the interview, we left for Italy for our wedding, which took place on 3rd October 2020. We accepted the offer, and I started my new role as a quantum engineer on 15th October 2020.”

Image: Francesca and her husband at their wedding.

Now based in Espoo, Finland, Francesca is part of a team calibrating and benchmarking IQM’s processors. She says: “At IQM, I had to learn a lot of things at first because I was coming from academia, but it wasn’t too difficult. And when I came to Finland for a few days, I was sceptical because there are many start-ups, so you don’t always know what they are up to.”

When asked what made her stay, she explains: "I’m happy; the work environment is good, and I enjoy spending time with my colleagues and working here. I think that we can do remarkable things. Moreover, I also like Finland a lot. I don’t have any negative things pushing me away. I see a future with IQM —let’s see how it goes."

Image: Francesca and her colleagues working at IQM Quantum Lab.

She feels empowered

On a typical day, she enjoys collaborating with a diverse group of people with specialised skills, particularly her team. She is usually at the office by 8 a.m., measuring and benchmarking new Quantum Processing Units (QPUs), conducting internal research and development, and meeting with her team.

According to her, "I enjoy it when I get something done in a nice way and obtain good results; in the end I feel very satisfied. There are always ups and downs, of course. But in general, I feel good since things are moving forward.”

“Work itself is quite exciting; I get a good overview of people, which is quite important to me; we have good colleagues. We are always happy, making jokes. You must be focused, of course, but this environment with amazing people is nice. I am happy that I have achieved my dream of working in the quantum computing industry,” she adds.

For her, the company culture is good. “Things are organised well. The work environment is excellent; I feel empowered that the company listens to and values my ideas. Communication within my team is also excellent. There is stress sometimes, which is normal. Many things need to be done because we are still a start-up, and we have great goals to be achieved.”

Her love for sports

When she is not calibrating and benchmarking IQM’s processors, she enjoys spending time with her husband, cooking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and any other outdoor activity.

Image: Cycling is one of Francesca's favourite outdoor activities.

“I also like visiting new places. I really love travelling and I enjoy my life a lot outdoors,” says the former inter-school swimming champion.

"I was a professional swimmer for 10 years. I started very young, in primary school, and I used to practise for at least two hours every day. I took part in several national competitions in Italy.”

Image: Francesca's trophies and medals from different swimming competitions.

For future employees

Working at IQM has been both fun and a roller-coaster ride, and she has some advice for future employees. “I am always talking positive things about the company to new people. I have been to events such as Slush and the APS Physics March Meetings in the United States, and I’ve told people to apply for roles at IQM. Prepare yourself and grab the opportunity to work at IQM.”

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