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Message for students 2024:Akihiro Yatabe

February 5, 2024

From astrophysics to quantum annealing researcher

Researcher, Secure System Platform Research Laboratories
Akihiro Yatabe

After completing a doctorate program in astrophysics and a year of working as an assistant professor at a university, Yatabe joined NEC in April 2019. He was then assigned to a team that studies quantum computers. One year later, he was reassigned to the Quantum Computing Promotion Office, which promotes the utilization of quantum computing from a business perspective. After two years working at the office, he returned to the Laboratories. He is currently engaged in the theoretical study of use case exploration and hardware development for quantum computing.

Reaching quantum computing in the search for a way to apply physics

I am currently engaged in the theoretical study of quantum annealing. I majored in astrophysics in school, so it is different from my original area of specialty. While working as an assistant professor after completing my doctorate program, I saw competent senior students in the same lab struggling to find a job every two or three years of their term. I thought seeking a continuous academic career would be tough, so I chose to find employment outside.
It is not easy to find a job in the astrophysics field. Typically, people in this field seek jobs in finance, civil service, and IT companies, but these are more like careers that use mathematical knowledge. Since I studied physics, I wanted a job where I could use my expertise and research in physics if I could ask for more.
As I initially believed that NEC is an AI company, I did not consider it to be a job-seeking option at first. I thought it was a company that only took in elites specializing in information systems. (*LOL*) However, when I submitted documents on my work and achievements to the university’s career center, I luckily got a lead that I could get a job interview with NEC. At the interview, I got a good impression from the interviewers, who earnestly asked me questions about my research. However, I was taken aback when they finally asked if I wanted to do quantum computing. Nevertheless, quantum computing is a field ahead of the times where I can use my knowledge of physics. I did not want to leave this opportunity and decided to jump into this world.

Establishing my own position after reassignment

While quantum computing was outside of my specialty, as long as you have solid knowledge from undergraduate studies, you can catch up with no problem. Even on the same team, we have many members from nuclear physics and particle physics.
During my first year, I worked on research primarily on use case exploration for quantum computing while getting advice from senior members. Since quantum computing is still a fresh field, even use case exploration is worthwhile for presenting at academic conferences. At the end of the first year, I was reassigned to a division that promotes the application of quantum computing from a business perspective. While the new division also had a research function, I was initially startled by leaving the Laboratories in my second year. Looking back, I see that my experience here has done me very well. I gained an understanding from both sides, research and business, and established my own unique hybrid position.
After returning to the Laboratories, I am working little by little on the theoretical study of quantum computing hardware development. Research is getting more and more exciting since I am getting closer to studying areas where I can use more of my knowledge of physics.
NEC is currently putting company-wide efforts into accelerating research into quantum computing. The company is involved in multiple national projects launched by NEDO, etc. One advantage of being at NEC that you can dig yourself into research with a long-term perspective.

Doing the research you want to do at NEC

It may be because I work at NEC-AIST Quantum Technology Cooperative Research Laboratory, but NEC Laboratories have a university-like atmosphere. I first imagined corporate laboratories to be more austere, but it was easygoing and gentle in a good sense, a comfortable environment. Researchers here write many academic papers, which may be one of the reasons I feel this way. NEC handles many AIs, so naturally, many researchers publish papers related to informatics at international conferences. However, my team also has many people publishing research papers for physics at academic societies.
So, if you need to give up research upon employment, that is unnecessary at NEC. NEC encourages researchers to write papers and participate in academic conferences and societies―it is even one of the key performance indicators (KPI) in personnel evaluation. NEC also has something called the 20% rule*. It is a system that allows researchers to study a theme of your choice within 20% of your work time to the extent that it does not affect team tasks. So, there is absolutely no need to give up on the research you want to do. With voluntary members in other departments, I am currently working on research on a theme that I am interested in.
My future goal is to write a research paper. Due to the reassignment and other events, I could not get my hands on it, so I would like to get down to it soon. As a researcher, delivering results and having them recognized by many people is delightful. I wish to contribute to society through my knowledge of physics.

  • *
    A certain percentage, for example, 15% or 20%, is set for each division.
  • ※
    The information posted on this website is the information at the time of publication.

A day at work

Message to my past self in my school days

Private column

Recently, influenced by a senior co-worker who loves to read, I started reading science fiction novels and other books. NEC’s benefits package includes a subsidy for purchasing books related to work. Another delightful advantage is that it allows you to buy other books at a discount. I used to play the piano in elementary school and picked it up again six months ago, taking lessons. People at work have a variety of hobbies, and I learn a lot from them. Just the other day, I went to see a musical and a car race on a holiday and enjoyed them.