Digital: EU raises alarm about skills gap, Italy responds with 1st Quantum Engineering course

Professor Cocuzza takes part at the Polytechnic of Turin: “From the climate, to AI to new drugs, quantum technologies are the future. In 1 millisecond the work of 30 million years of a traditional PC”

Europe raises the alarm on the gap digital skills because by 2030 there will be a shortage of 8 million ICT specialists in the ‘old continent’ and Italy also has its ‘gaps’ to fill given that 1 in 2 citizens lack digital skills. But our country does not remain with its arms crossed. As early as next week Polytechnic of Turin will activate the first Italian master’s course in Quantum Engineering, is the only one on our territory and just the fifth in the European vision after Holland, Switzerland, Great Britain and France. “We started to understand that students were going abroad to train in quantum technologieswe wanted to anticipate the market and we verified that the time was ripe to build a new degree in Italy” Professor Matteo Cocuzza, full professor at the Department of Applied Science and Technology (Disat) of the Polytechnic of Turin, told Adnkronos.

And precisely in these days Turin is always at the center of the ‘innovation’ ferment with the ‘Tech Week’ at the OGR which also aims to support hi-tech skills. “The European data on the digital skills gap are impressive. I am convinced that it is an added value to spend and invest in this direction. When Italy has had excellence they have overflowed: I am thinking of chemistry, mathematics, physics” urges Cocuzza, explaining that the new master’s degree course of the Polytechnic of Turin “fully responds to the needs of training and digital skills”. The University “but also other important national universities are working to respond with their degree courses aimed at real needs” assures the prof. And after all, the technical data speaks for itself in outlining the new horizons traced by quantum technologies. The area of ​​quantum technologies is a complex area of ​​physics that explores the behavior of subatomic particles, particles smaller than atoms, the fundamental building blocks of all matter. And one of the main areas of interest within quantum technology is quantum computing.

“Unlike a classical computer, which performs calculations one at a time, a quantum computer can perform many calculations at the same time,” Cocuzza indicates. “Quantum computers – he explains – allow us to predict scenarios and create things that we would not be able to create with normal PCs, to perform a task in 1 millisecond that would take a conventional computer 30 trillion years”. And this, he continues, “opens up unpredictable horizons in the fight against climate change, in the production of new molecules and therefore new drugs, in the fight against tumors, in the development of Artificial Intelligence”. In short, we could study climate change at another speed, “do high-speed quantum computing simulations that could help scientists create more efficient batteries or fertilizers, or find ways to optimize processes to reduce carbon emissions,” he says Cocuzza.

The course activated in record time, Mur, Anvur and Cun also ran

Even on the health front, in the fight against tumors but not only, there would be a change of pace. Cocuzza thus points out that skills in quantum technologies are strategic in this sector: “Quantum computing, quantum computing, can help pharmaceuticals, in the synthesis of new proteins, in innovative diagnostics. There are various diagnostic techniques based on quantum technologies In magnetic resonance the nuclear spin is controlled and this is an example of a technology already used which is based on the quantum phenomenon but there will be others to be developed with quantum technologies” he adds. “We will have to look at what is happening in our body without opening it with the least invasive diagnostics possible, in the quantum sector we are trying to develop more sensitive techniques with the least possible invasiveness on the patient” the professor continues.

Therefore, more targeted training in new technologies is appearing on our country’s radar. Cocuzza also underlines the ‘record time’ in which the training course in Quantum Engineering was carried out at the Polytechnic of Turin. “A degree course is usually set up in 2-3 years, we set up the Quantum Engineering course in 1 and a half years.” The official procedure, the teacher argues, “envisages many steps both internal to the university – and these are quite rare requests – and official steps with external bodies. But both the Cun (National University Council) and the Anvur (National Agency for Evaluation of university and research system) and also the Mur (Ministry of University and Research) took action and we received the responses very promptly”.

From the Anvur, he reports, “we received a review that considered the proposal for the new degree course ‘excellent’ both in terms of content and formal methods. The Mur, despite the bureaucratic delays, was very quick: after the Anvur resolution a July, the Mur resolution arrived immediately in September. Everyone responded adequately”. The course starts next week and Cocuzza estimates that there have already been “70 applications for enrolment. Not all of these applications will result in enrolment, we expect 30 students for sure but we will have the certain number of students enrolled in this new master’s degree around Christmas and we expect to have around 50 students”. The effects of these skills on the job market are important.

Quantum technology has implications from logistics to aerospace”

Professor Cocuzza states that “the development of these technologies for companies allows us to simulate scenarios and behaviors of complex systems, not only for the structure of new molecules for the pharmaceutical industry but also to make company prototypes and optimize processes”. Quantum technology has implications, for example, in logistics and aerospace, it helps in recognition processes – for example in anti-fraud activities or in communication – and allows us to solve problems that we would otherwise have to approximate, such as in the calculation of portfolio risk for a financial company or in delivery logistics. Thanks to degree courses in quantum engineering, one obtains, continues the professor, a “solid multidisciplinary preparation which allows inclusion in high-profile research contexts, but above all to use quantum technologies in an innovative and transversal way in engineering applications such as manufacturing, services, life sciences and security fields”.

The Course therefore trains professional figures such as technologist or process engineer for the manufacturing of quantum and hybrid devices, designer of quantum devices, circuits and systems for communications and sensors, developer of machine learning algorithms with the related implications in the Artificial intelligence, expert in high-performance simulations, for pharmaceuticals it means the development of new proteins, but the course also trains experts in the management of communication networks, transport, energy distribution, cybersecurity and protected communications experts, solution developers economic-financial based on the use of quantum calculators.

The new degree course “aims to train female and male graduates with a multidisciplinary preparation that includes mathematical, physical, electronic and IT skills” and “the main targets for professional opportunities are high-tech companies of different sizes and which also operate in global level” in strategic sectors such as microelectronics, telecommunications, security, defense, aerospace, energy and environment, biomedical, in the development of hardware and software for quantum computers, financial services. “We have the PiQuET Piemonte Quantum Enabling Technology but the basic training piece was missing in the area and so we created the new master’s degree in Quantum Engineering” explains Cocuzza again.

“In the US and EU there is already talk of a quantum talent gap, only a few thousand experts in the world”

Finally, Cocuzza points out that “in the USA and the EU there is already talk of a gap in quantum talent, there is a lack of trained people, with just a few thousand experts in the world, they are not enough for the challenges we should face and the most complex challenge is that of train skills”. “It is from here, thinking in the light of two years from now, that we decided to open the new degree course in Quantum Engineering, we said to ourselves ‘either we do it now or the kids will go abroad'” he says. “We do our part and at least until they are 23 we keep them in Italy, then the companies and the Italian state will have to do the rest” Cocuzza cuts short.

The Prof observes that “a large investment is needed which must start from the school, from the basic levels of the school, and from families” to slow down the skills gap in STEM subjects. “It is difficult – he observes – to have an impact on children when they have now reached adulthood, obviously there are those who understand but it is a wave that must start from the bottom, we need an equipped teaching staff in middle school and high school”. In general, concludes Cocuzza, “the value given to culture and knowledge requires a medium and long-term investment. But it produces an immeasurable impact”. (by Andreana d’Aquino)