Women of Quantum: Marta Mauri of Zapata Computing
Some individuals, like Marta Mauri, a Quantum AI Research Manager at quantum computing company Zapata Computing, seemed destined for the quantum industry. Since studying physics in Milan for her bachelor’s degree, Mauri has been interested in quantum physics. “It’s a fascinating theory because it’s counterintuitive,” she explained. “But it’s also very accurate in describing certain mysterious phenomena before the theory was established.” With her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics, Mauri ensured she could still focus on quantum physics by choosing classes in this field. Through this process, she narrowed down what she specifically enjoyed in quantum physics. She stated: “I enjoyed the concept of visible effects of quantum physics. So, the Bose-Einstein condensation, superfluidity, superconductivity, etc. All the behaviors that emerge when you combine many particles together.” Thanks to her mentor for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Professor Davide Galli at the University of Milan, Mauri was given resources to further learn about these types of phenomena, as well as other types of phenomena involving many-particle systems. “Galli led me to my master’s thesis, a combination of machine learning and quantum physics,” Mauri added. “So, using machine learning, or technology more broadly, to study quantum physics. Then the question became somewhat the opposite: what if we use quantum physics for technology?”
It was during her master’s thesis that Mauri was first exposed to the quantum industry itself. “I had the chance to spend some time during my master’s thesis project in Toronto at the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence,” Mauri elaborated. “My supervisor there, Prof. Juan Carrasquilla, suggested, while doing my master thesis, that maybe I could apply for a Ph.D. program after that.” However, Mauri wasn’t too sure that a Ph.D. program was what she wanted to do. “At that moment, I didn’t feel that it was the right fit for me,” she added. “So, I had many conversations with Carrasquilla to determine other options. In one of these conversations, he mentioned Zapata Computing and told me I should look into them.” When Mauri did look into them, she found that Zapata Computing, a market leader in quantum computing software, was doing many different projects that interested her. She was interviewed and hired in 2019, excited to enter the quantum industry. “Basically, things go very different from maybe what you could have imagined, but in my experience is mostly, almost always, better than what you could anticipate,” she added.
Now as the Research Manager of the Quantum AI team, Mauri finds that she gets to do many different tasks. “Because I work closely with the Research Director Alejandro Perdomo-Ortiz and CTO Yudong Cao, we all work together to make sure that our team can operate efficiently, smoothly, and with a clear direction,” Mauri stated. “My tasks do change month to month since the startup environment is quite dynamic. Some tasks I take care of more consistently include hiring, onboarding, goal setting, and planning. All of these happen in collaboration with other people. I also do many components of project management and supervising, which is also what I like a lot about this role because it involves both some technical work and some management experience.” With project management, Mauri finds that she is able to be still creative and enjoy her passion for machine learning and quantum technology while also working closely with others. As she added: “I don’t have a formal management background. So, I’m learning a lot from all the other managers in the company.” Mauri mentioned that Zapata Computing focuses on a personal connection between employees within the company, fostering a supportive culture. Mauri uses this culture to improve her managerial skills and collaborate with other teams in Zapata Computing.
As a leader in this quantum startup, Mauri understands that she has a role in contributing to the inclusive company culture and the larger culture of the quantum industry, which can encourage the participation of more historically underrepresented individuals. “I think what can make a difference is exactly what we’re doing here,” she stated. “The point of putting forth some examples of diverse and different people who are part of the quantum industry, coming from diverse backgrounds and environments. If you do this, the quantum industry changes from being an abstract notion to being a mosaic of human faces. And the beauty of a mosaic is that every single piece is different. And that builds a complexity that’s beautiful.” To support this mosaic, Mauri recommends having infrastructures such as mentorship programs and the representation of all individuals within the industry. “I think what can improve diversity at your workplace is this culture of openness,” she added. “Where in your interactions with people, you start from the assumption that the person you meet is actually a gift for you. Whatever they have to say can be an enrichment.”
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, quantum computing, and AI. Her work has been featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, Discover Magazine, Ars Technica, and more.