Patryk Urban serves as the IEEE Photonics Poland Chairman and is an IEEE Photonics Globalization and IEEE Photonics Industry Engagement Committee Member.

Today we interview Dr. Gemma Vall Llosera, Head of Automation & AI Innovation from Ericsson Sweden, an experienced technology broker spanning application areas of optics and photonics, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, communications, cloud technologies, Board Member of Photonic Sweden.

Dr. Gemma Vall Llosera supporting the Ericsson Women in Technology action.

Patryk: What is the field of you interest in photonics and how did it all start in your life? 

Gemma: I come from the classical optics school where light is pictured as rays going through optical elements, lenses and mirrors. Specifically going through human optical systems, the eye. Here is where I started my photonics career. So, I am licensed optometrist. After that I found renewed interest in optics in the shape of synchrotron radiation. In this case, light was no longer classical but quanta of photons impinging molecules to trigger electronic transitions in atoms. And after that I even considered light not only in vacuum or air systems but also inside a medium such as optical fiber and in Silicon. Right now, I am also interested in how photonics, specifically quantum photonics can help in Ericsson’s digitalization journey, so as you can see, my life has always revolved around photons to that extend that I thought that If I ever changed my surname it would be to “Fotonberg”, which translated from Swedish would mean the “photon mountain”.

Patryk: Ok, this is really a lot of photons in life! And what do you consider to be your biggest achievement and contribution so far to the development of photonics science and industry?

Gemma: Unfortunately I have not contributed to any breakthroughs. I am more like the ant that just keeps on working little by little everyday. In science, I went from calibrating fluorescence spectrometers to studying the photon emission of water, deuterated hydrogen, ammonia, benzene molecules and even the fragmentation patterns of the sugar of DNA/RNA molecules. 

In industry, I would say that the most important contribution has been during my time at Ericsson research when we set the foundation for dense and ultra-dense optical networks, both in terms of architecture and also for physical layer monitoring using advanced optical time-domain and frequency-domain reflectometry. 

Patryk: What excites you most and keeps you motivated to further contribute to this field?

Gemma: Closely following the advance of AI and quantum technologies and the role of photonics in there is very motivating. New photonic-based quantum processors, photonic accelerators by startups claiming better performance than large established players. New photonics chips for quantum key distribution or applications with a shorter time-to-market TTM like the generation of random numbers from photonic hardware, look very promising. 

Patryk: At WaveJobs we have noticed that many companies struggle to find proper candidates in the field of photonics, while there is definitely visible market demand. So, what are the main obstacles you and your peers experience when hunting for potential employees to your projects?

Gemma: First of all, this is a common problem that we also see in the Photonic Sweden organization for which I am a board member. And the problem comes already from University not having enough students in specific photonics programs. Then also, we need to take into account what kind of industries there are and what competencies they need. There are industries that develop complete photonics components, IR cameras, spectrometers, optical transceivers. This type of companies need expert competence inhouse.  Another type of companies that would need optical inhouse competence are those industries that produce some of the optical components for other companies (a CCD camera, a lens, etc). On another end,  we have industries that buy optical components (IR camera or an optical transceiver) to integrate in a larger system (ex. Ericsson wants to embed an IR camera into a Radio Base Station). In this case, Ericsson might decide to build the competence inside or buy it from the third party. 

All in all, the type of industry will have a big impact on what competences and the profile of the candidates. As I mentioned, the root problem might already be at the university stage where students are bought in for AI and SW technologies, no longer for HW. 

Patryk: Would you share any piece of advice you would give to those looking for first jobs in photonics or Photonics-related fields?

Gemma: Well, don’t be afraid to learn. What you learn in university might not be a perfect match to the job you are applying for or it might not be the ideal job you were thinking of, but I would say try and if that position gives you the freedom to learn it might be the most rewarding job ever. 

Patryk: Gemma, the steps in your career are the best proof of what you have just said. Thank you very much for the interview.