888-384-7144 info@insidequantumtechnology.com

Women of Quantum Technology: Dr. Clarice D. Aiello of the Quantum Biology Tech (QuBiT) Lab

Dr. Clarice D. Aiello, founder of the QuBiT Lab, speaks about her journey into the quantum ecosystem.
By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry posted 27 Mar 2024

In scientific research, where disciplines often run in parallel, seldom intersecting, Dr. Clarice D. Aiello, founder, and leader of the Quantum Biology Tech (QuBiT) Lab, stands as a beacon of interdisciplinary innovation. Aiello, a trailblazer in the emerging field known as  “quantum biology,” is trying to bridge the gap between quantum physics and biology. This endeavor could revolutionize our understanding of life at its most fundamental level. “It’s tough to legitimize the field of quantum biology,” Aiello told Inside Quantum Technology. “There is a lot of miscommunication around it because of pseudoscience, because of a proposed and unprovable, given present technology, the quantum origin of consciousness, besides unfounded claims about entangling tiny organisms to technological qubits.”

Quantum biology, while not a new concept, has lingered on the fringes of mainstream science and is often viewed with skepticism by scientists. It explores the role that quantum phenomena, like entanglement and superposition, might play in biological processes – a concept that challenges traditional views of physics, biology, and chemistry.

With her robust background in quantum physics and a keen interest in biological systems, Aiello advocates for a more integrated approach at the QuBiT Lab. She argues that quantum mechanics’ peculiarities could be fundamental in driving complex biological mechanisms, such as photosynthesis, enzyme reactions, and even how cells react to electromagnetic fields.

Surprisingly, Aiello’s journey didn’t begin with either biology or quantum physics. While she wanted to pursue a physics degree, her parents recommended an engineering degree instead, as Brazil, her native country, offered better-paying opportunities for engineers than physicists. During her undergraduate degree in the early 2000s, Aiello learned more about quantum physics thanks to her mentor, Prof. Fernando Brandt of the University of São Paulo, who had Aiello read Feynman’s lectures. Aiello finished her degree at École Polytechnique in France, where she had more opportunities to pursue her passion for quantum physics. “The quantum industry was non-existent when I graduated,” she elaborated. “But during my undergraduate career, I was able to take some early quantum computing courses and quickly found I enjoyed them.”

After her undergraduate career, Aiello transitioned into a Ph.D. in quantum sensing at MIT. As a postdoc in a chemistry lab at Berkeley, she transitioned to biophysics. One of her projects was creating a chip to image chlorophyll molecules. The experiment was not working, and Aiello sought out other molecules to image; she haphazardly came across cryptochrome, a protein with properties remarkably similar to what physicists call “quantum sensing.”

“Chemists have been aware of room-temperature, test-tube “quantum sensing,” without naming it so, for decades,” she added. This was Aiello’s first exposure to how quantum physics could interact with biology, and she was hooked. After completing a second postdoctoral position in bioengineering at Stanford University, Aiello became an assistant professor at UCLA.

In November 2019, two months before the pandemic, Aiello founded the QuBiT Lab, which focuses on quantum biology. As a principal investigator at QuBiT Lab, Aiello examines how quantum spins, an inherent property of electrons and other particles, affect biological systems, such as cells. “This could be a key in processes ranging from bird migration to embryogenesis, ” she highlighted.

However, for many of these quantum interactions to affect biological processes, they must work at room temperature, which can be a big barrier. However, as other quantum physics and chemistry research has shown, these quantum dynamics can occur at these temperatures for short periods but long enough to matter for physiological function. Aiello and her QuBiT Lab team are hopeful that further research will show them causally driving physiological processes.

As a leading voice in the field of quantum biology and as the leader of QuBiT Lab, Aiello understands the importance of increasing diversity within the quantum ecosystem. “High-ranking scientists have a role to play in making the industry more inclusive,” she highlighted, “not as saviors, but as allies.” To be allies, Aiello explained that these individuals should be aware of the issues and prejudices within the field and advocate for women and other minority groups.

Aiello also mentioned that quantum literacy must be improved for the field to become more diverse. “There is so much miscommunication around quantum; we must improve general quantum literacy for everyone with a high-school degree,” she stated. “It’s like coding once was, where only a niche group of people could code, and now everyone can. Quantum is similar in that only a few people have access to it now. We need to expand this to include everyone; quantum physics is necessary for us to understand the world in which we already live.”

Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is the Managing Editor 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 National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, New Scientist, Ars Technica, and more.

Categories: quantum computing, research, sensing, women in quantum

Tags: Clarice D. Aiello, quantum biology, QuBiT Lab, Women in quantum

Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter

Stay up-to-date on all the latest news from the Quantum Technology industry and receive information and offers from third party vendors.

Hamamatsu Photonics is a Gold Sponsor for the IQT Nordics Conference in Helsinki in June 2024.Quantum Tech Pod host Christopher Bishop interviews IQM CEO Jan Goetz for the newest podcast episode.