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Women of Quantum Technology: Dr. Rama ‘Bala’ Balasubramanian, President and CEO of Chance to Change Lives (CCL-US)

Dr. Rama ‘Bala’ Balasubramanian, CEO and President of Chance to Change Lives (CCL-US) discusses the importance of quantum education
By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry posted 22 May 2024

In the burgeoning field of quantum technology, where innovation and inclusivity intersect, stands Dr. Rama ‘Bala’ Balasubramanian, CEO of Chance to Change Lives (CCL-US). Her story illuminates a journey from curiosity to leadership, underpinned by a deep commitment to diversity and education in quantum sciences. “Recently, my research interests have pivoted more towards the applications of quantum nanomaterials in biotechnology and space research, and my outreach work with underserved groups in STEM disciplines has further inspired my interest in developing equitable programs in quantum technologies,” she told Inside Quantum Technology.

Bala’s foray into the quantum realm began as an undergraduate in India. An introductory quantum physics class and a research project on heavy fermionic systems sparked a lifelong fascination with quantum mechanics. “It was exciting for me to learn that all of those behaviors were explained by quantum mechanics,” Bala stated.

Her academic pursuits, culminating in a PhD focused on superparamagnetic interactions in nanocomposites, laid the groundwork for an illustrious career dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of quantum materials and their applications, especially in biotechnology. She elaborated: “I started my academic career as an assistant professor on the tenure track and then as a tenured faculty member in the associate and full professor ranks. I am passionate about providing and facilitating experiential learning opportunities in applied physics-quantum materials to underserved college students at different points in their academic journey, interests, and talents.”

Transitioning from academia to action, Bala founded CCL-US at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative was driven by her desire to mitigate the impact of the global crisis on research opportunities for students at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) and emerging research institutions (ERIs). Her non-profit venture embodies her mission to develop programmatic initiatives in Quantum Information Sciences (QIS) that foster a diverse and inclusive environment for non-traditional students, underserved groups, and minoritized populations.

“We recently launched our inaugural yearlong fellowship, the STEMnetX fellowship, for a cohort of 12 undergraduate students primarily focused on providing QIS skills through workshops, professional development sessions, and networking events,” Bala added. This initiative is a testament to her vision of creating equitable access to quantum education and training, aiming to close the gaps that have historically limited participation in quantum fields.

As president and CEO of CCL-US and an affiliate professor of physics at Washington and Jefferson College, Bala wears multiple hats, each contributing to her goal of empowering future STEM leaders. She also fulfills her passion for mentoring others by serving as a Career Mentoring Fellow for the American Physical Society. She explained, “In that role, I give talks to students at Physics Departments, Colleges, and High schools on topics such as physics discoveries and relevance in our modern life, about quantum applications, what career prospects and trajectories do physics majors, etc.”

As a female leader in many different quantum-focused organizations and institutes, Bala advocates for a multifaceted approach to improve diversity in the quantum industry, emphasizing the need for targeted outreach, mentorship, scholarships, and robust partnerships across the quantum ecosystem. The STEMnetX fellowship program, focusing on experiential learning and industry partnerships, serves as a model for nurturing and retaining emerging talent in QIS, ensuring a diverse workforce essential for future technological innovations. “Continuous dialogue and collaboration among diverse stakeholders are vital for building a more inclusive quantum community,” she said.

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: Education, quantum computing, women in quantum

Tags: Chance to Change Lives (CCL-US), Rama ‘Bala’ Balasubramanian, Women in quantum

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