Elisa Torres Durney, Founder and CEO at Girls in Quantum

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February 8, 2024

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Anastassia Lauterbach

Elisa is 18 years old and a force of nature. She created Girls in Quantum at the age of 16. I am incredibly proud of her and am sure she and her crowd will contribute to making this world a better place.

In the upcoming weeks, Elisa and I will put together a partnership agreement between AI Edutainment GmbH and Girls in Quantum. Our organisations have a lot in common. We are committed to improving technology literacy across all age groups and geographies.

Lauterbach: Could you please explain how you came up with the idea to create Girls in Quantum?

Durney: I discovered my great interest for science in middle school. Like most friends, when the pandemic began, I was devastated as I could not go to the lab and spend time with my friends. In mid-2021, I had the opportunity to participate in the online program called Conectadas from Chicas en tecnología, where, in addition to meeting many girls from LATAM, I realised the importance of connecting science and technology to solve global issues like climate change. A month later, I saw an advertisement for a 24-week quantum computing course from QubitxQubit, and after applying, I received a full scholarship from IBM. Throughout the weeks of the program, I learned how quantum computing could revolutionize everything around us. I started Girls in Quantum to let other girls have the same opportunity as I had.

Lauterbach: Could you share some of your most essential learnings from when you were making the first steps in building your movement?

Durney: Starting Girls in Quantum was an entrepreneurial journey. Sharing with the world what I liked – quantum computing – was challenging. The topic wasn’t necessarily at the top of the list of many students. I had to find my own team and understand where I belonged and who I wanted to work with to develop a mission statement for the organisation. Inspiration was essential to get things done. Besides, I had to learn how to communicate effectively while improving myself. Finally, one might think people are born with the ability to collaborate. Collaboration, though, is a fundamental skill one must learn and practice. It implies managing expectations and aligning with people of different personalities and backgrounds. Finally, there is nothing wrong with starting small. We had to build educational resources and develop our platforms, and we started nimble and local. Our pilot worked, and we scaled to help students in different regions. Today, we are in 21 countries. Our members help to translate the content from English into local languages. We meet Universities and research institutions embarking on our mission to educate, inspire, and strengthen a global community to provide students with various resources and opportunities.

Lauterbach: The educational landscape changes, with even the best universities putting their content online. Still, most people don’t use what is out there. How do you explain it?

Durney: I remember how accessing online educational resources became my personal inflection point. Even though we have some things at our fingertips, we don’t always know how to get the most benefit out of it. Getting a community aspect into an educational journey changes everything. The emotional aspect of learning is essential. Studying isn’t only about ‘what,’ but ‘how.’ Many kids abandon mathematics in schools because all they see are dry formulas. Students can better digest material if program makers add videos with real-world examples and show how a mathematical problem can be applied in our daily lives or in some professions. The fun factor enables better understanding.

Lauterbach: How do you actually reach out to people who might have content and resources for you? How do you find people, or do people find you?

Durney: My parents recommended LinkedIn. Initially, it was about sending thousands of emails and connection requests. I learned to celebrate those few people who actually responded. Actually, this is how you and I met. I learned about your www.romyandroby.ai project, and I sent you a message.

Lauterbach: Instead of computing on tiny transistors, quantum machines compute on the atoms themselves and, therefore, can surpass the most significant supercomputers existing today. What are, in your eyes, the biggest problems in building these machines?

Durney: A formidable engineering challenge is to let these atoms vibrate in unison and deliver what we want from a quantum machine. The slightest noise might ruin quantum calculations, as the environment required is highly fragile. Additionally, scientists are using equipment to drop the temperature to near absolute zero, as the temperature plays an engineering challenge. Today, quantum computers might occupy a whole room, and this form factor – which can’t be delivered at a low-cost point – isn’t an excellent precondition for the technology to come in more practical ways in the future. Still, let’s not forget that conventional computers used to be huge, and today, we carry compelling computing devices in our pockets.
Besides, quantum computing demands a highly knowledgeable workforce. We must excite people about the role of quantum physics, quantum software, and hardware engineering to speed up R&D, and we must start very early.

Lauterbach: What do you think needs to happen beyond universities and schools?

Durney: I think companies – large and small – require an open mindset for technological transformation. Technology impacts everything, everywhere. I think there should be cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing courses in every career. People must learn how these things will impact their jobs.
Covid boosted digital transformation because people decided it was necessary. Change can’t happen without purpose and commitment. We must get ambassadors for quantum technologies among business owners, politicians, and schools.

Lauterbach: What formats do you consider the most effective in including people of different backgrounds in pursuing new technologies? I am thinking about AI, cybersecurity, Internet of Things.

Durney: Greatly organised and moderated hackathons bring more people into technology and engineering. The format reduces fear, as it provides psychological safety to the participants. Togetherness makes it easy to leave the comfort zone. Sometimes, I get very inspired by who I meet in these exercises. As an example, I once met a girl who was passionate about coding. Her interest was infectious, and I decided to explore coding myself.

Lauterbach: How do you deal with fears, such as quantum removing encryption?

Durney: I am an optimist. I really love the intersection of computing and biology. Five years ago, most people had never heard anything about AI, and today, there are discussions on whether schools should allow ChatGPT in homework. We evolve as a society.

Furthermore, I closely track developments in AI and its consequential impacts as regulatory frameworks are established. I firmly believe that the advancements in AI will inevitably shape protocols, prompting deeper considerations regarding regulations, ethics, and security within quantum computing.

Lauterbach: What are your plans for the next 18 months?

Durney: I am learning to balance between developing Girls in Quantum and preparing for undergraduate studies. I applied to study engineering and for scholarships at different universities. Besides, I will continue my hobby of studying languages and my work at my organisation.

romy and roby and the secrets of sleep book cover

Book 1

Romy & Roby And the Secrets Of Sleep.

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