Tell us about your background — where did you grow up? What drew you to a career in science and physics?
I was born in South Africa in the 1980s, during apartheid. My mum was and still is a politically active person, so of course, she hated apartheid. When I was a baby, we were deported from South Africa after she was arrested for throwing a tomato at President Botha. I spent my childhood across the UK. I don't consider any one place here "home." in general, I don't like to be tied down anywhere specific for long.
I have enioved science tor as long as I can remember. I have always been fascinated by how things work, so I found myself in a physics career. For me, physics provides the ultimate 'how-to' guide for the universe. Both my parents are academics - my dad is a professor of chemistry, and we've always had a deep sense of competition. I like to wind up my dad by telling him that physics is a "better" science, so I beat him at anything I do in my career compared to his.
What was the focus of your Ph.D. and postdoc work at Cardiff University? Did you have any early mentors who guided you in a significant way?
My Ph.D. focused on semiconductor lasers — leading me to experimental science. I have had two mentors that shaped me greatly: Peter Blood and Peter Smowton. Blood was someone I admired throughout my undergrad, so doing my Ph.D. with him was a fantastic opportunity. With his guidance, I learned several technical skills. He helped give me focus and drive to complete my Ph.D. when I had forgotten the excitement of beginning it. Blood helped me drive through this period and got me to the finish line. Smowton has an incredible network and has established himself as a world leader in physics. I admire his drive to be a part of everything and his ability to just get stuff done. His work ethic has influenced me and shaped my professional career.
When and how were you first introduced to John and Oleg? What about your business model and technology concept gave you the confidence to go in as a co-founder at a young age?
I met John and Oleg during an entrepreneur fellowship program through the Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre (QTEC) designed to help academics start businesses. Toward the end of my Ph.D., I was excited to see quantum computing shift from academics to commercial use, and seeing the success of other startups in this area drove me to pursue an entrepreneurial career of my own. I strongly believed that the technology I was working on was key to scaling commercial quantum.
Early on in the program, I ran into Oleg at a conference. I had worked with Oleg previously, and I asked myself, "What is the CTO of HYPRES doing here?" I had no idea that Oleg and John were starting a quantum computing company. We got a beer and discussed commercializing quantum. We found that we were looking to commercially employ the same core technology, the only difference being I was coming from the quantum side, and Oleg from the classical side. Over that beer, we realized that we could combine our expertise. We began our journey together and co-founded Seeqc. Both John and Oleg are amazing mentors for me. I am so fortunate to have such excellent business and technical leadership as I continue my personal development as an entrepreneur and leader.
It's said there are about 800 people world-wide who are qualified to work on quantum computers at this level, what are those people like? What commonalities or quirks do they share?
I think it's a cool and diverse community — so many different ideas, technologies and paths that bring people from all over the planet together. Everyone is technically brilliant, and sometimes the level of genius of the people that I am privileged to work alongside is a daunting community to be in. I think we all share a common drive to make this technology work and to bring the world the gift of quantum computing. This common goal makes it a super exciting and rapidly advancing community.
What major breakthroughs do you think quantum technology will bring in our lifetime?
Some super exciting breakthroughs could come from using quantum computing to create new an advanced pharmaceutical drugs. It could also spark breakthroughs in battery technology — supporting a greener and more sustainable future. Quantum computing is the next step evolution of computing. In the same way classical computing revolutionized everything we do today, we imagine the same happening with quantum computing. It's difficult to truly predict what could come from it.
Do you think the way quantum computing is measured today addresses what the CIO and other business leaders are looking for? In other words, is it practical yet?
Today's measure of quantum provides numbers that are far too abstract for CIOs to understand. Recently, companies have been claiming to have computers with increasing quantum volume, with each company claiming they have the most powerful quantum computers. In reality, these same systems can be simulated on your laptop. This benchmark they claim to have reached is not a real indication of how useful it is. The most powerful quantum computer to date was the most powerful machine for one specific task that had limited practical use. Moving forward, I believe the power of a quantum computer should be referenced against how it can be practically used, or its potential to scale for practical purposes.
Congratulations on getting married this year, how do you and your wife spend free time?
Thanks! We love to go for long walks, and we try to visit friends and family as much as we can. Before the restrictions, we spent most of our free weekends traveling. Laura and I love traveling the world. We recently fell in love with Sorrento, Italy. The bonus of having a subsidiary in Naples means we now have a good excuse to go there regularly!