Quantum Software Consortium


5 years Quantum Rules lab: ‘The best part is when you hear the penny drop with a student’

Physics teacher Henk Buisman welcomes secondary school teachers ánd students who want to know more about quantum physics. And he likes to help them in an interactive way. Therefore, he and his colleagues started the Quantum Rules lab of the Faculty of Science five years ago.

Each year, hundreds of students pass through the lab to conduct their own physics experiments at the university.



When quantum physics was introduced into secondary education a few years ago, teachers were quick to knock on Buisman's door. ‘We already had good contact with high school teachers,’ he says. ‘I coordinate the contact between the university and teachers. Not all colleagues have a background in quantum. We then came up with experiments you can do in a classroom.That evolved into the Quantum Rules lab.’


Superconductivity, the photoelectric effect and quantum dots: these are just some of the topics covered in the 15 experiments students perform during a day in Buisman's lab. ‘Physics is often perceived as difficult,’ he says. ‘And quantum mechanics especially, because you have to let go of the concepts you know and accept something completely new. But students often say that when they have observed something with their own eyes in the lab, they really understand it.’


Interaction university and high schools

Since 2008, the Faculty of Science has been building a teacher network that transcends the Leiden region through Contact.VWO. Buisman is one of the coordinators and is very enthusiastic: ‘We reach dozens of teachers who in turn teach hundreds of students. So you get a snowball effect.’ Three times a year Contact.VWO organizes teachers’ evenings at the university with lectures on physics or astronomy. They also supervise students’ profile assignments and organise thematic workshops.


The quantum of everyday life in a game

Buisman has not been idle over the past five years. ‘First we had the students present their results to each other. But that was a bit boring, so we turned it into a game. It's a bit like an escaperoom about the social impact of quantum. Each student does only part of the experiments and thus holds a puzzle piece of the solution. To finish the game in time, the group needs to collaborate. Just like in science and elsewhere in life.’

‘The development of new quantum technologies is moving fast, so there is always something we can add. The didactics are also still new and in full development, so it's kind of crafting in the garage,’ Buisman laughs. ‘As a teacher, you have a lot of freedom to make of it what you want. That's what makes it so much fun.’


A unique concept

The Quantum Rules lab is unique in the Netherlands and even within Europe it’s still a special concept. Therefore it is enormously popular, Buisman observes: ‘During Covid-19 everything was at a standstill. Now, with more than 600 students a year, we are already back to our old level.’ Together with a student he also studied the effect the activities have on the high school students. ‘We saw that many of them think a lot more positively about quantum technologies after a day in the lab. But perhaps more importantly, negative ideas about quantum decreased strongly.’


And what are Buisman’s dreams for the future after all this success? ‘I would love to see all young people in Europe being introduced to quantum physics in such a way. Students go home satisfied and sometimes even come back. I am really proud that the concept has caught on.’


Source: Michelle Willebrands, University of Leiden, 21 June 2023