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RSA's Brilliant Minds: Dr. Elliott Hastings

When you meet Dr. Elliott Hastings, his humor and wit will immediately clue you in; he doesn't fit the conventional archetype of a quantum engineer.


In just a few months, Dr. Hastings took his research from the lab to the field, leading Rhea Space Activity's quantum research in the UK office. 


He recently graduated from the University of Bristol with a PhD in Quantum Engineering. Still, his intellectual curiosity continues to inspire and guide his quantum pursuits, something that has driven his academic ambitions from a young age.


Dr. Hastings at the University of Bristol on graduation day, February 20, 2024.


Allons-y!

 

A proud Bristolian, Dr. Hastings grew up in the port city in England famous for the Clifton suspension bridge and the world's largest hot air balloon festival. 

 

"There is a real thick accent that you can acquire if you've been in Bristol long enough and you know, we tend to be quite proud of where we're from," he said. 

 

Despite neither of his parents having technical backgrounds, he credits his insatiable appetite for sci-fi shows like Doctor Who with igniting his passion for science and math at the young age of ten. 



 Dr. Hastings performing laser alignment of a telescope during his research. 


"I used to absolutely love as much sci-fi as I could possibly get. I would eat it all up," he said. "That kind of got me interested in the nerdier side of school. I was good at science, but I loved maths. Anything to do with numbers and equations and calculating things and just being a general smartass was my bread and butter."


When Dr. Hastings entered University, he was drawn to math, and in his eyes, the less it applied to the real world, the better.


After taking a few quantum lectures, one being quantum information theory, he had found his calling.

 

"It didn't make sense at all, and I loved the challenge of trying to make sense of it."

 

Dr. Hastings envisioned the broad application potential for quantum technology and acknowledged few people would take quantum theory out of the lab and into the real world.

 

"A lot of the work is really just on the blackboard," he said. "You can take something from real deep theory and intangible and by the time you get down to a single particle or a single kind of photon, there's no way to perceive it, but you can make these things work for you in a way that kind of helps you with something as common as information security."

 

Bringing quantum technology to life is precisely what Dr. Hastings did next. 

 

Spoilers!

 

Dr. Hastings attended the University of Bristol's Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training, which provides training and development experiences to understand fundamental scientific principles and their practical application to real-world challenges.

 

"It lets you touch base on a whole bunch of different things before you commit to any given problem, which was what I needed as a mathematician because again, all I have is stuff on a blackboard at that point."



Dr. Hastings with the Portable Interoperable Ground Station, showing off the receiver and transmitter optics.


Through that program, he found the person at the University doing the most quantum work, Dr. Siddarth Joshi, who was working on establishing secure quantum communication between a satellite and a ground station. He would later become Dr. Hastings’s PhD supervisor. 


Traditional communication methods, typically reliant on radio frequencies or lasers, are susceptible to interception without detection. Quantum communication transmissions operate with minimal optical power, leveraging just a single particle of light, rendering them highly covert while facilitating the transmission of vast data volumes. This technology holds extensive potential within contemporary security landscapes.


"That was the motivation for my project, and I got to build out the ground procedure for it," he said. "On day one of the PhD properly starting he [Dr. Joshi] gave me a telescope, which at the time I thought was absolutely massive, and said, 'go make it work.'"


After many cold nights spent alone in a field testing and nearly four years later, he earned his doctoral degree and the letters D and R. 


But that was just the beginning of Dr. Hastings’s pursuits to bring quantum technology to real-world applications. In 2023, he joined the RSA team after a chance meeting with RSA's CEO, Shawn Usman, and COO, Cameo Lance, at a conference. 


"During a five-minute break before one of the talks, I thought I'd better go talk to some people, and RSA was right in front of me," he said. "They had the JAM [Jervis Autonomy Module] logo on little jam jars to give out, and I thought, I     can't let this good pun go unpunished."


The serendipitous nature of the meeting and instant connection told Dr. Hastings RSA was the right fit for the next phase of his career. 

 

RSA team from left to right: Shawn Usman, CEO; Cameo Lance, COO; Elliott Hastings, Quantum Engineer; Mo Brethower, Software Engineer; and Salma Benitez, Aerospace Engineer with the QuBE—RSA’s quantum key distribution laser system.


"Shawn is a very big character and Cameo is his match as well," he said. "How likable and nerdy they are, in the best way—we had a debate on whether photons are waves or particles—it was the fact that we could have that offhand conversation that really sold me on what was going to be a very interesting technical role."

 

Run!


When he's not cooking up the next greatest quantum tech, you can find Dr. Hastings in the kitchen baking with his long-time partner, Abby.


Dr. Hastings baking with his partner, Abby.


"I love baking. I'm not very good, but I like to do it."

 

Now that his PhD is complete, he's also looking forward to traveling and going on long runs to explore his new home in Edinburgh. 

 

Dr. Hastings is building on his PhD research, developing RSA's Quantum Lovelace Optical Augmentation Kit (QLOAK) as part of the RSA UK team based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.


"I am looking forward to continuing to build out our quantum product and a quantum team," he said. “A big thing I want to do this year is to show off what we can do with more lab and field demonstrations."

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