Research at ZEISS is in a position to shape the future – and it’s set to do just that. For physicist Michael Totzeck, that means observing and assessing trends. He sees great opportunities in one particular area: quantum applications. Here’s a day in the life.
It’s 7.45 a.m. The bell rings, signaling first period – time to get these tenth graders interested in physics. Michael Totzeck’s in his suit, his students aren’t quite as keen – but he certainly knows how to change that. His blazer comes off, his sleeves are rolled up. He shares a few words of warning inspired by his professional life. He admits things didn’t go well anytime he failed to prepare beforehand. Then he brings out the virtual reality headsets and says: “Let’s see what we can create today.” An hour later, five project groups made up of local southern German students are hard at work. After all, in just a few weeks they’ll be presenting ideas like the virtual tour for foreign exchange students to a panel of managers. This is how Michael Totzeck aims to get the youngsters interested in his specialist subject.
But the school is merely one part of his work, for Dr. Michael Totzeck is a Fellow, i.e. the highest rung on the Expert Ladder at ZEISS. As a Fellow, you have to love learning, want to uncover hidden truths, identify and assess new technologies, and be involved in many projects at any one time. Totzeck became a Fellow in order to drive the networking of ZEISS with the scientific community. He showcases his skills during the preparations for the ZEISS Symposium. In April 2018 ZEISS will become a platform for discussions among the foremost research experts in quantum science as well as between leading tech companies. They’ll all be heading to the southern German town of Oberkochen, where the company is headquartered, to discuss various aspects of quantum computers, quantum communication and quantum measurements: sights set on the future.
“Any new approach that’s never been tried before must be a step in the right direction.”
A familiar phenomenon
“Quantum science is so thrilling because we’re already familiar with the fields of application,” says Totzeck during the lunch break, which his assistant had to remind him to take. This didn’t used to be the case: for example, when laser technology was discovered, people started asking: “What are we supposed to do with it?” Specific applications in quantum technology are already the norm. The quanta could revolutionize aspects like encryption technology and completely replace the existing standard. This scenario has resulted in much unrest and thorough preparations have to be made, especially by tech companies.
Michael Totzeck believes preparation alone won’t be enough – he also wants to organize the sheer volume of information and ambitious announcements for ZEISS. For years, top tech giants have been open about wanting to market the world’s first quantum computer. Significantly higher processing power could simultaneously combine the work of several computers and thus enable considerably more complex algorithms. IBM, for example, is claiming that it can use quantum computers to simulate chemical processes in nature. As nature itself follows the rules of quantum technology, it can only be properly understood if this technology is actually used. A better understanding of nature could enable pharmaceutical companies to develop more targeted preparations or better materials for things like outerwear.
Quanta: little all-rounders
Quantum computers could also be deployed in other areas where complex algorithms play a key role, and calculate smart logistics solutions and global supply chains. Investment banking would benefit just as much as it could then compile risk models more easily. Last but not least, quantum computers can process unthinkable data quantities and thus make artificial intelligence even smarter. “Manufacturers’ predictions vary regarding when the first useful quantum computer will appear on the market,” says the scientist.
This is what it’s all about. Michael Totzeck is attending his quantum meeting at ZEISS. A group of researchers, who either have a PhD in quantum physics or have spent a long time researching into the topic, stay up to date on the latest developments while also critiquing the boldly alleged benefits and opportunities. And, of course, how ZEISS can – and must – position itself to great effect. This afternoon, the focus is on measurements and visualization using quantum science. In a mathematical digression, Michael Totzeck explains the benefits of quantum technology. In terms of sensory systems, the small quantum parts are a big deal for neurologists: the ultimate aim is to achieve highly precise visualization of the brainwaves to then create entirely new opportunities in brain surgery.
In order to explain this vision more accurately, Michael Totzeck paid a visit to BOSCH that same week. The aim is to work with the University of Stuttgart to make a dream come true: after all, when surgeons are in the OR they’re still finding it difficult to identify whether they’re only cutting out a tumor or important cells along with it. ZEISS and Bosch envision a brain machine interface that can use quantum technology to visualize everything with the utmost precision.
Customers want a quantum leap
Later that afternoon, the discussion turns to the future of optics: Totzeck was invited here by the Strategy department of one of the business groups to speak about disruptive technologies: while this topic is no problem for him, it involves a lot of note-taking for his audience. Four pages, two business ideas and a cappuccino later, he thanks everyone for this “fantastic opportunity.”
His next meeting is a little more tangible: he is tasked with leading a project with a tight deadline and has therefore called a tech kick-off meeting. He starts by talking about a trade fair and the typical customer problems associated with it. In his office is a “customer problem map.” “Today, research is not as pie in the sky as it used to be,” he says. At the kick-off it’s clear to see how much of a researcher he is at heart: “Hey, that’s great!” he says, unable to hide his excitement when one of his colleagues tells him about an experiment he’s prepared. Any new approach that’s never been tried before must be a step in the right direction.
It doesn’t feel like work at all
He was raised and studied in a city that no longer exists – West Berlin – and only moved to southern Germany later on. Nevertheless, he definitely has some southern German traits – for instance, he always starts and ends meetings on time. Sometimes, however, Totzeck really gets into a subject and loses all track of time. This is particularly true when it’s about the future and whether or not an idea will work out. No matter who he’s listening to, he’s always busy working on something else at the same time. Even if he’s quiet, his mind is whirring.
Michael Totzeck doesn’t think his work is all that exciting. A typical day for him involves a lot of phone calls, a lot of listening, a lot of rushing from one place to the next. It would seem that staying abreast of technical developments is no problem for him – despite his many projects, events, trade fairs and speeches. And on the weekend, he just loves “delving into topics.” While he says this, he puts his hands one of top of the other to mimic the shape of a fish diving into the water. He doesn’t really see any of this as work. He’s a man of many talents, but also a qualified physicist and a professor at the University of Konstanz. Last but not least, Totzeck is a researcher capable of explaining man’s free will. Using quantum theory.
IBM already has a quantum computing interface that researchers can use to run simulations. Atomic clocks, gravitometers and magnetometers are already available on the market. There are already examples of what’s known as ghost imaging, whereby structures are visualized using light quanta (or photons) that have never detected said structures before.
Encryption with quanta offers a considerable benefit: any eavesdroppers will leave an unmistakable trace behind them. It’s actually quite simple: a photon only gets its properties when it is measured. So if an eavesdropper tries to intercept, the properties will change once more. The Republic of China has been working on a quantum communication network for years. The aim is to transmit qubits through the fiber optic network and thus make use of the unique encryption. When they will achieve this is anybody’s guess. Despite being announced by many companies, the universal quantum computer will not be hitting stores anytime soon.