Women of Quantum: Dr. Anna Petroff and Dr. Victoria Ingman of Polaris qb

Dr. Anna Petroff and Dr. Victoria Ingman of Polaris qb
Dr. Anna Petroff and Dr. Victoria Ingman of Polaris qb
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Polaris qb is one of the few companies within the quantum industry looking to apply the benefits of quantum computing directly to drug design and implementation. Of the many people on the company’s staff striving toward this goal, Dr. Anna Petroff and Dr. Victoria Ingman are particularly excited to see what this next-level technology can bring. “We’re using a drug discovery platform that uses quantum computing,” explained Petroff, who works as a Computational Chemist at Polaris qb. “So, new medicines have complex biochemical interactions with their targets. We can characterize these interactions with traditional computing. But quantum computing allows us to ask new questions that respect this complexity, and to get answers to these questions more quickly than with traditional computers or wet-lab chemistry.” Ingman, who is an Applications Scientist at Polaris qb, shared a similar sentiment. “There are quantum effects in chemistry,” she said. “It’s interesting to me that we’re trying to use the best tools the universe gives us to solve these difficult problems.”

As an Applications Scientist, Ingman feels that she can use her background in computational chemistry to make an impact. “This is actually my first job out of graduate school,” she said. “And it was just immediately a good fit. The problems I’m trying to solve are inherently science problems, but I’m trying to develop a way to make our work more efficient. All of the little nitpicky things that encompass that, I love them all.”

Petroff also has made use of her background in computational chemistry, but ultimately joined Polaris qb because she knew Ingman worked there. According to Petroff: “Victoria is right at the interface between the computer team and the chemistry team.” A relatively new employee, Petroff found herself working as a computational chemist, looking specifically at membranes. “My area is in membrane proteins,” she said. “Membrane proteins are at the interface of the cell and its surroundings. So, you can imagine they’re very attractive drug targets because if you can modulate the cell’s activity from the outside of the cell, you can treat a lot of conditions that stem from the cell making too much of one thing or too little of something.” Looking into the uses of membranes for drug design, Petroff often talks with Ingman, allowing them to become rather close colleagues.

Both women have faced tough situations in their journey to Polaris qb. “I have definitely been the only woman in the room at other companies,” Petroff explained. “It is not a great feeling.” Petroff found herself being asked to join Polaris not because she was a woman in science, but because: “My ideas would get the company closer to its goals,” she added. “All of us here have got strong backgrounds and complementary areas, and we’re here because we can contribute,” While Petroff is grateful for her community at Polaris qb, she is worried that other quantum companies may be missing out. “Some companies are not capitalizing on this available talent of women who are coming out of these labs all over the world. They don’t seem to realize that their talent is stymied and they don’t understand the toll it takes on people to work in an environment that is hobbled by discrimination.”

For Ingman, she’s grateful that she’s had mentors to help support her. “I don’t necessarily think of myself as a woman in science, I think of myself as a scientist,” she stated. “That is because there have been a lot of strong women in my life. So, for me, to have that freedom to think of myself as a scientist and not feel: ‘Oh I couldn’t do this because I’m a woman’ is important. I want to pay it forward to the next generation. And I think the values and visions of Polaris  really helped me achieve that.”

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Kenna Hughes-Castleberry

Science Communicator at JILA

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