June 17, 2022

Quantum scientist Barry Sanders spreads knowledge far and wide

Calgary Award recognizes Faculty of Science prof for his international achievements
Dr. Barry Sanders
Dr. Barry Sanders from the Faculty of Science is this year's winner of the International Achievement Award at the 2022 Calgary Awards. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Around the University of Calgary campus, Dr. Barry Sanders is a quantum guy — best known as the director of the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology.

Perhaps less well known is his work promoting international collaboration and creating opportunities for foreign students to conduct research in Calgary. Sanders has been a speaker at many high-profile international forums, and has presented at NATO workshops on terrorism in Moldova and cybersecurity in Estonia.

Last week, his efforts to promote quantum science internationally earned him a prestigious Calgary Award in the category of International Achievement.

Sanders, BSc’84, PhD, DScwas one of seven recipients of this year’s Calgary Awards who have a connection to UCalgary. He received the award from Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, MA'03, PhD'14, in a special presentation on June 15. “Winning this award is a great honour, but it also validates the importance of international engagement for education, training and research,” says Sanders, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Faculty of Science.

Behind his activities in the international arena is a deep belief that innovation and co-operation can help transform developing nations.  

Sanders also has taught summer programs in countries such as Brazil, Pakistan, India and Morocco. He is a frequent visitor at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, through which he teaches quantum computing in Rwanda. He’s currently supervising a student from Eswatini (previously Swaziland), and has served on a PhD examination committee in Ethiopia, and also holds a Visiting Advanced Joint Research professorship at India’s Raman Research Institute.

Assistance sent to Africa often consists of money, food, medical aid and basic training. However, Sanders says he’s particularly interested in whether Africa can be helped to jump to the forefront of a particular area.

I can go to Africa and there’s a troubled region and challenges in place, and, if I talk about the mysteries of quantum, people come.

“There are people who have curiosities and they want to know about the mysteries of the universe as much as people anywhere else.”

Sanders has a keen interest in promoting women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and has added his own research funding to support PhD training for female students from conflict-affected countries in Africa, where systemic gender bias in higher education is still prevalent.

He has brought three African graduate students to UCalgary: one from Sudan, another from Kenya and the third from Ghana. “There’s always somebody who wants to learn these things [about quantum science and technology] and then go back home and spread the knowledge,” Sanders says.

Sanders is "an international leader in quantum sciences, but he is also a Calgarian to the core, a true example of homegrown international success,” says Dr. Kristin Baetz, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Science. “He has helped make Calgary the go-to centre for quantum research, and he truly believes in the transformative power of research and education on an international scale. It is difficult to find someone working in quantum physics that doesn’t know Barry or know of the work he does.”

Dr. Barry Sanders speaks at the Government of Alberta's announcement of $23 million for Quantum City

Dr. Barry Sanders speaks at the Government of Alberta's announcement of $23 million in funding for Quantum City.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Sanders is a key driver of Quantum City

Closer to home, Sanders is the scientific director of Quantum City, a UCalgary-headquartered quantum hub.

The Alberta government recently announced $23 million in funding for Quantum City. The initiative’s partners are the Province of Alberta, City of Calgary, University of Calgary and anchor partner Mphasis, a global IT company based in India.

“Quantum City is about developing a quantum ecosystem in the province, based in Calgary,” Sanders says. Quantum City will foster research, development, education and training while translating this knowledge to the community, he adds. This includes engendering startups and bringing companies, including branches of international firms, to Calgary.

“We want to make sure that Calgary is a key place where quantum technologies are created, tested and moved to market,” Sanders says.

Quantum City is highly interdisciplinary, with activities that encompass computing, mathematics, chemistry and physics in science, and soon engineering both hardware and software as well as the business aspects of quantum. "We have projects with the Cumming School of Medicine, biology and petroleum engineering," Sanders says.

UCalgary’s quantum research team, although smaller than teams at the world’s leading institutions, consists of world-class researchers, Sanders says. But, through the Quantum City initiative, UCalgary plans to hire 11 or 12 more faculty members in quantum, he notes, adding, “We’re going to be very prominent globally soon.”

Plans for first professional master's in quantum computing

UCalgary also is on track to launch the world’s first professional master’s degree in quantum computing, Sanders says. The proposed degree has been approved by UCalgary’s internal committees, and Sanders says, if the provincial government approves the new degree, it will be offered to students starting in September 2023.

Sanders also leads the Quantum Alberta initiative, which consists of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers from the universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge.

Despite his international activities and administrative roles, Sanders still finds time to do his own quantum research, which he says is “his true passion.”

Currently, he’s working on control techniques to enable quantum technology to meet the “exquisite and unforgiving requirements” for scalability, on new quantum algorithms and applications, on how to verify and validate quantum technology, and on mathematical methods to solve problems where solution techniques do not yet exist.

Learn more about Quantum City.