Quantum Leadership in Action: An Interview with Dr. Prineha Narang


Within the deep tech industry, quantum technology is gaining significant interest from both investors and the general public. Current quantum technology companies cover a wide variety of markets, from quantum computing to quantum encryption to quantum networking. All of these businesses are working hard to make future technology more accessible.

One of these quantum networking companies is Aliro Quantum. Founded in 2019, Aliro’s technology originated in the laboratory of Harvard professor, Dr. Prineha Narang. Narang is also currently the CTO of Aliro, responsible for a wide range of functions from R&D to marketing strategies. “My role within Aliro is really kind of all-encompassing,” Narang explains. “This is what it means to be the CTO of a startup, as I help with tasks ranging from architecture to software to the day-to-day technology aspects, talking to investors, talking with potential partners, various big network service providers, or big utility companies. It’s perhaps a little bit different from what one imagines for the CTO of a big company, but within a startup, you really have to do everything.” Thanks to Narang and the team’s hard work, Aliro is a big player in the quantum technology market, providing foundational technologies to build complex quantum network systems in the commercial sector. Since 2019, Alito has partnered with IBM Q Network, Honeywell Quantum Solutions, ESNet, and Hyperion research, as well as many more businesses.

In founding Aliro, Narang notes a natural connection between her Harvard lab and her new company. Narang clarified the technology of Aliro as: “building the entire quantum network stack, thinking about how we can realize various core network pieces. People talk about all the layers that you have in a network: layer one, layer two, and how you actually eventually connect up to an application. And developing that for quantum networks has been really exciting.” Not only does she enjoy working on the innovative technology, but Narang also finds she enjoys the quick pace of a startup company, even if it does make her workday busier. “From a day-to-day standpoint, I need to manage my time very, very well. I frequently noticed that any scheduled meeting will likely take up all the schedule time. So, I try to remain cognizant in terms of a deadline. My research group is pretty big. we’re on the order of 16 to 17 people now, and Aliro, of course, is pretty sizable!” By developing a routine that works for her, Narang is able to be a successful CTO and Harvard professor simultaneously.

From her role as a CTO, Narang is able to translate many of her industry “real-world” skills to her mentoring as a professor. “I think that I’ve been able to bring a different perspective to my mentoring, teaching, and the classroom because of this connection with both Aliro and other parts of the quantum industry. In academia, industry, and national labs, I think quantum is one of those fields where you could do really spectacular science and technology, regardless of which of those paths you pick. I’ve been able to share this with my Ph.D. students and mentor them in a way that a traditional academic might not have been able to previously.” Using her knowledge of the industry, Narang believes she’s able to give her students timelier guidance when determining their future careers.

While Aliro did originate out of Narang’s laboratory at Harvard, her research is much broader than the work being done at Aliro. Many things are synergistic. For example, Narang and her team at Harvard are looking at future quantum memories, specifically at quantum defects in solids to realize scalable quantum networks. She believes this research can help develop long-range quantum networks. Narang is also looking at quantum correlations in the matter. “So, essentially, we can use quantum probes, like quantum sensing, as a probe of correlated transport in quantum matter, and we have a few different papers on unconventional transport in quantum matter that are out and some that are coming out very soon.” Should Narang’s team find methods to develop quantum memories for larger quantum networks, these methods could be applied to Aliro, and the company could become an even bigger name in quantum technology.

Narang has a unique appreciation for research at the intersection of theory and experiment, “co-design” of quantum technologies. Narang originally worried about being a theorist but found that “theorists actually are the most interactive people. There’s so much that happens over good coffee and a blackboard, where somebody is writing out an equation and discussing it.” From her interest, in theory, Narang then moved into quantum information science, “I started playing around with GPU accelerated computational methods in grad school, and eventually realized that programming quantum devices and using them to compute interesting correlations- understanding physics with this new tool is actually a natural progression.” From there, her work became successful to the point when she founded Aliro.

Moving forward, Narang hopes to inspire others to consider quantum and quantum technology as viable career opportunities. Being one of a few women CTOs in the industry (only two on this list), Narang hopes to inspire more inclusivity. “I want to encourage people who might not see somebody who looks like them in the field right now, to take the leap say that this is a field that is welcoming. There is a lot of support once people are in the field. This field IS for women and for underrepresented minorities, though, of course, from the outside, it may seem a little bit daunting.” Narang recounts her own experiences, saying she didn’t see many people with her background early on after joining the quantum field. Thanks to mentors who showed her support, Narang found a welcoming community. “That would be my message to others who are considering joining this field: you absolutely belong. And I hope you will consider joining this field.”

References:

“What Is Quantum Internet Infrastructure?” 2019. www.aliroquantum.com. 2019.

Interviews:

Dr. Prineha Narang, Assistant Professor at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, as well as CTO of Aliro.

Photo courtesy of the Narang Lab

Kenna Castleberry
Kenna Castleberry
Science Communicator at JILA

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