Women of Quantum: Dr. Leonie Mueck of Riverlane

Leonie Mueck, the Chief Product Officer at Riverlane, a world-leading quantum company, has had a lifelong fascination with how quantum technology and chemistry interact. “I am a chemist by training,” she explained.  “And I’ve always been interested in the fact that you can predict chemical behavior purely using quantum mechanics. You can actually predict the whole period table just by solving the Schrodinger equation.” Mueck chose theoretical chemistry as her research focus which meant that she attempted to computationally solve the Schrodinger equation to predict the behavior of chemical systems. “Unfortunately, you can only solve the Schroedinger equation accurately for very small systems. For larger molecules, or even heavier atoms, you rely on approximations,” she explains. The biggest challenge for theoretical chemists is to predict the behavior of large molecules and chemical systems with sufficient accuracy. Even the most powerful classical computers reach their limits at rather small molecules. After moving from her Ph.D.to becoming an editor at Nature, Mueck was responsible for handling the topic of quantum computing. She realized what unique opportunity quantum computers represent for theoretical chemistry: With sufficiently large quantum computers, we could overcome the crucial limits posed by classical computers and predict the behavior of much larger systems.

While at Nature, Mueck helped create a small network of other quantum-technology-focused individuals. According to Mueck: “My colleague Maria, who also now works at Riverlane, and I organized a pitching event for young physicists who wanted to commercialize their technologies. We had a collaboration with an organization called Entrepreneur First, which is a London-based incubator.” This pitching event exposed Mueck to the entrepreneurial aspects of quantum computing and she got hooked. So when Steve Brierley, CEO, and founder of Riverlane, approached her to join him, it was an easy decision.

Now as the Chief Product Officer at Riverlane, Mueck uses her passion in her day-to-day activities. “My job is very much about figuring out how we commercialize the technology as well as how Riverlane, as a key player in this community, can work to make quantum computing a reality,” she added. “All of the products we are developing are focused on closing the gap between today’s quantum computers and the big quantum computers we need to actually perform theoretical chemistry calculations. We’re doing this using multiple paths, like studying chemistry and pharma. We’re also working on scaling for quantum computers, in particular scaling control systems. Finally, we also are looking at how to solve quantum error      correction.” With these many different facets of product development, Mueck finds herself constantly learning something new, as well as having no trouble at all keeping busy.

As a leader at Riverlane, and within the quantum community, Mueck believes that the industry needs to be focused on inclusion instead of diversity. “Diversity gets more diverse people from diverse backgrounds around the same table, but inclusion is about actually including them in the conversation and listening to them,” she explained. “I often feel that when talking about these things, people have not fully bought into the concept, or may just pay lip service to it. But it’s important to have these difficult conversations.” Mueck tries to put her words into practice with her own team, making them feel empowered and heard. “Creating spaces for everyone, not just women, to be included is important,” she added. “And there are wonderful initiatives out there for minorities in quantum computing that help create these spaces.”

Mueck aims to serve her community and has, for example, served as part of the diversity and inclusion committee of NumFOCUS, a nonprofit organization promoting open practices within science and research as well as hosting a range of educational programs. With women like Mueck working hard, hopefully, others will take notice and do their own work to better the industry, include more voices, and level the playing field to make quantum accessible for all.

Kenna Hughes-Castleberry

Kenna Hughes-Castleberry

Science Communicator at JILA

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