"I don't know any trans fixed professor in quantum computing, which means that I am my own mother. I don't have a role model. I follow myself or nothing," says Juani Bermejo Vega, a 32-year-old researcher at the University of Granada. It is one of the few transgender scientists in the world with its level in quantum computing and the only one in Europe. A trans quantum computing researcher works in France, Dominic Horsnan "There are many people who are surprised to meet me just for being trans. Imagine when they find out that I work in quantum computing. They don't process it," he says.
"It is harder for you to enter a site if there is no one who looks like you"
His career is clearly unusual. In fact, Bermejo Vega dedicates part of his day so that his profile is increasingly common. The role of a mentor or model is key in your world.
The value of accessing a place where no one is like you requires an unknown effort for those who do not belong to minorities. "It is harder for you to enter a site if there is no one who looks like you," he says. "You don't have a natural ally who will help you. If you are a Spanish scientific girl and you arrive at a conference table and they are all older German white men, it will give you a lot of sitting," Bermejo-Vega explains. "Science is very hierarchical. If there are ten people who are like the other in the hierarchy and there is only one like you, the other will have more options," he adds during a conversation with EL PAÍS on the Quantum Simulation & Computation conference held at the ICMAT (Institute of Mathematical Sciences) of Madrid.
Bermejo-Vega distinguishes between the researchers whom he can admire for his scientific work and the people who are also able to inspire his career: "A woman inspires me because she has managed to pass. If you don't see anyone like you, she imposes a lot on you", He says.
"Science solves very complicated problems. This requires a lot of people. If we skew who enters science, we are limiting people who could solve those problems. The approaches are reduced if everyone is the same color or country. The best is variety." , Explain.
Bermejo-Vega, born in Cáceres, studied the double degree in Computer Science and Physics at the University of Salamanca. There was his aunt Pastora Vega, Professor of Systems Engineering and Automation. "I have a model in the family," says Bermejo-Vega. From high school he was on the class lists, but physics cost him more: "Your brain doesn't like to make equations. It's a myth. You have to work many hours," he says.
"Your brain doesn't like to make equations. It's a myth. You have to work many hours."
In those years I had not yet transitioned to a woman, but I already sensed: "People noticed that it was rare. queer and eccentric, "he says. In a faculty with a male predominance, he preferred to be accompanied by students of non-scientific and more artistic careers. His partner since that time is a translator.
After a stay during the race in Canada in 2008, where he decided to devote himself to research in quantum computing, Bermejo Vega went to Germany upon graduation. He did his doctoral work in Munich in the Spanish team Juan Ignacio Cirac. After that stay and the thesis, he spent three years at the Free University of Berlin.
In 2019 he decided to return to Spain, thanks to a Marie Curie Athenea3i research contract in Granada: "In Germany there is more money but the research is very pyramidal and it is very difficult to stabilize you. And I missed Spain. There are things you can't do or it costs more, such as politics or communicating about science, "he explains.
The bad situation of the investigation in Spain was a problem, but it was not decisive: "The Government has defined the investigation. The investment has gone down a lot but the people who do science here are very good. If you get a place, you can do research. Maybe you don't have a group of 35 people like in Germany, but the pyramid system there isn't good either, "he says.
The transition was not easy
The big change in his life was deciding to leave the closet or "transition." It was not easy. First, because she cheated herself. "All my life I have had gender doubts. But there are things that block you. Realizing that you are transgender is not easy. There is a lot of transphobia in the world and you try to give another explanation to your personal problems," he says.
It was a process that culminated in his case a few months ago, in Berlin, with 31 years: "If I had transitioned before it would have been worse in my career," he admits. "It was like downloading updates from a software To improve the system. It helped me to experiment with my pronouns, with changes of clothes, makeup. My friends started calling me 'she'. You are taking spaces. Until I went out at work and in the family, "he adds.
This personal liberation also improves his professional performance: "This makes my research better. I feel better about myself and I have more energy. Before I left the closet it was harder for me to live. Everything costs three times more: social interaction, selling you at a conference. They see you as an uncle, but you are not. All that sucks you energy. When you transition and people treat you like the gender you have, you get energy that you used to resist before, "he explains.
As an activist in the academy, Bermejo Vega co-organizes a quantum conference where the variety in the profiles of the speakers prevails. The first were in Brazil and are already preparing the second edition in India. "They are inclusive conferences and the atmosphere is different. People are more at ease. There is less stress. You see visibly more happiness," he says.
Quantum computing lives a boom. In 2019, quantum computing has become a discipline debated in the media. In January, IBM presented its first commercial quantum computer in Las Vegas. In October, Google announced that it had achieved the so-called "quantum supremacy": its programmable quantum computer apparently made an operation that a conventional supercomputer could not.
For Bermejo Vega, the announcement of supremacy may exaggerate the achievement, but he has no doubt that "there are reasons to be happy" even if it is "more a technical demonstration than fundamental. It is more to say that technology is maturing and has reached a point interesting, "he explains. Quantum experiments will continue and it is likely that in the coming years a computer capable of performing operations with practical applications unimaginable today will be announced. We are on that path.
Bermejo Vega will investigate from Granada, with a laboratory that "we are assembling." His field of work is partly similar to that of the Spanish Sergio Boixo, who devised the Google experiment. "I work on the fundamental principles of quantum computers and when a quantum computer is better than a traditional one and what test can be done to prove it," explains Bermejo Vega.
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