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Quantum Insights: interview with Anna Dyring

Anna Dyring
Sean Caffrey

BIO: Anna Dyring joined the University of Toronto as Quantum Strategic Initiative Lead and CQIQC staff in 2022. She focuses on new initiatives for quantum research, training, industry relations, as well as internal and external collaborations. Her priorities also include engaging with the U of T quantum community and promoting CQIQC’s programming and visibility to wider audiences.

Anna has an MSc in Engineering Physics and a PhD in High Energy Physics from Uppsala University in Sweden. She did her PhD at high-energy muon beam experiments at CERN that measured the quark and gluon distributions of nucleons in atomic nuclei. She went on to industry where she for more than 20 years led large and complex technology projects at several aerospace, consulting, and biotech companies.

Anna moved with her family from Sweden to Saskatoon, Canada, in 2016, and to Toronto in 2020.

Current personal side-projects include hosting and producing The Learning Podcast - an interview show about our never-ending quest for knowledge. She is also exploring an EdTech start-up idea. Anna and her family have a large interest in current affairs and the arts, in particular music, and enjoy exploring Toronto’s rich art and music scene.

CQIQC: Why did you become a scientist? Were there any other career paths you came close to choosing instead?

You could say I am steeped in science communication. My father, a cosmic rays physicist, co-founded and was the first editor in chief of one of Sweden’s first popular science magazines, Forskning & Framsteg (which translates into Research & Progress). He later became the managing director of the Museum of Technology in Stockholm and the science editor of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s largest daily newspaper. My mother held various roles around public understanding of science, and my sister Victoria Dyring regularly hosts science programs on SVT, Swedish National TV.

Growing up around people in science journalism and communication made me aware of not only the importance of research and technological development, but also that public awareness and engagement is crucial for our societies’ ability to absorb and benefit from new knowledge. I decided on a STEM education and PhD out of curiosity and to obtain foundational knowledge in natural sciences and technology.

CQIQC: What brought you to Toronto and CQIQC? What made you specialize in quantum?

AD: When I came to Toronto and started scouting for opportunities, I kept an open mind. Even though I had worked in industry for over 20 years, I never fully let go of the idea to return to academia. I happened to see the open job as Quantum Strategic Initiative Lead, applied, and here I am! There is something about being at the border between disciplines or sectors that really attracts me. Naturally curious and a critical thinker, I thrive at exploratory intersections.

My PhD studies involved a fair amount of quantum even though I never considered myself a quantum researcher. Back then, no one around me talked about quantum technologies or quantum’s industry potential, and I didn’t hear about quantum computing until much later. It’s amazing to now be involved in the Third Quantum Revolution, and to see how quantum sciences are advancing and quantum technologies and applications are emerging.

I love being around people who work on difficult problems and tackle intellectual challenges with curiosity, creativity, and grit. I enjoy listening to researchers who argue, disagree, and present different perspectives!

CQIQC: What are the main responsibilities of your role as Quantum Strategic Initiative Lead?

AD: I focus primarily on new CQIQC initiatives that promote research, training, infrastructure, funding, visibility, community growth and engagement in quantum. U of T has an amazing community of researchers and students doing cutting-edge quantum research and innovation. My goal is to provide support that can nurture and grow CQIQC and enhance its visibility and impact.

CQIQC: How does your work impact research at the UofT?

AD: In my CQIQC staff role I strive to contribute to the advancement of quantum sciences and, in extension, to new technological solutions that solve difficult problems and improve the industry sectors that we all rely on day-to-day: computing, communications, healthcare, advanced materials – to name just a few. There is not yet any consensus on the more precise timelines for breakthroughs but given the activity in the sector and the ever-accelerating technological advancement, I have a positive outlook.

CQIQC: Is there a particular application of quantum technologies that you are particularly excited to see in development?

AD: I don’t have a favourite and try to keep up with all areas, but I’m definitely excited about the next breakthroughs in quantum computing. It’s intriguing to follow how researchers and companies are trying to engineer different platforms and architectures for quantum computation, and it will be interesting to see what new applications and advancements it will lead to.

CQIQC: What advice would you give to young people who hope to pursue a career in STEM, particularly in quantum?

AD: My first advice would be to switch on their curiosity and let go of any fear of not knowing enough or being wrong. By now we know a lot about quantum but much of the science is still not fully understood and many really difficult engineering problems need to be solved. Being comfortable with not knowing, asking questions, and discussing quantum science and its unresolved problems with others is not only ok, it’s necessary when learning, researching, and advancing quantum and its applications. STEM topics are traditionally seen as difficult and requiring special talents. I want to challenge that view, which I think is inaccurate and bad for science. Irrespective of their background, I encourage anyone interested in doing quantum research to be curious and give it a try. This message is especially important for women and other under-represented groups in the field who may feel that they don’t belong or stand a chance. I’m really sad and concerned to see that the gender balance in physics seems to not have changed since I was a student in the 1990s.

Another advice is to talk to people both inside and outside of academia to get a good understanding of what they work on and what motivates them. A STEM education is a terrific foundation for fulfilling jobs in both academia and industry, and rest assured that learning and doing research in quantum is no exception. Finding the right job and environment is an individual journey that requires asking around, exploring, and gaining early experience, e.g., through a research project in a CQIQC group or an internship with one of our industry collaborators. It may also be good to know that in quantum today, transitions between academia and industry – in both directions – are possible and not uncommon. Entrepreneurship in the quantum sector is another possibility that I would encourage exploring with the help of resources such as the Creative Destruction Lab’s Quantum Stream.

I welcome anyone interested in CQIQC and our programming and support to contact me!