Katherine Lasonde ’23

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Katherine Lasonde

Harnessing the power of quantum computing to combat climate change.

From a young age, I was amazed that my dad— a Dartmouth alumnus who majored in engineering — could fix just about everything, including all my toys. But he didn't just fix things and move on. He wanted to also teach me how, like going through the wiring of an electronic game, or looking at the mechanical side of the toys I was playing with. He instilled in me a love for being able to see things and make them.

Coming to Dartmouth, I thought I wanted to major in environmental engineering. I am drawn to a lot of different types of problem solving—just any type of technical challenge is so interesting to me.

But I took part in the Women in Science Project and found I was interested in James Whitfield’s studies in quantum computing. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I liked physics, computer science, and engineering. I applied to do research with Professor Whitfield, and I ended up loving it.

As I was doing this work, I came to understand the enormous potential that quantum computers have in combating climate change. And I realized that I don't have to give up the part of me that is inspired to work on climate issues to do all these other engineering things. I can combine these two passions. There’s a human-centered connection in engineering here, and I’m very much a people person. My two favorite classes at Dartmouth have been solution-based and experiential. As a Stamps Scholar I am working with Professor Eric Fossum on a project I designed using quantum computing that could have an impact on cancer or infectious disease treatments. It has been an amazing opportunity. Aerial arts, where we use silk ribbons and hoops that hang from the ceiling, is another thing I'm passionate about. I was one of the first at Dartmouth to participate in the DAARTS group. Figuring out cool ways to move my body and feeling myself building strength is really lovely.

I feel like I went from freshman to junior-and-a-half, and now I'm a senior. How did that happen? This fall and winter terms I will be working on my thesis for my current project, plus my engineering major final, which is very hands-on. I will continue to make the most of my time with my friends as well.

I have met such a wide range of people with different viewpoints at Dartmouth and I’m able to get out of my comfort zone a bit. It's been interesting to take classes with teachers from different backgrounds, too. I went to Amsterdam on a computer science study abroad and realized there's so much in the world that I want to interact with. I want to work with quantum computers and combat climate change—and I want my work to have a positive impact.