Will this Oxford-educated 'quantum ballerina' reach the moon?

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Merritt Moore has achieved a career path that many would have considered impossible. Not only does she hold a Ph.D. in Atomic and Laser Physics from the University of Oxford, but she is also a professional ballet dancer, with a dance career spanning the English National Ballet, Boston Ballet, Zurich Ballet and more. Merritt now holds a position as Adjunct Professor at NYU Abu Dhabi and continues to work with Boston Ballet, focusing on the integration of industrial robots and human dancers.

Author Eloise Skinner gets to know more about her fellow classmate Dr Merritt Moore, known as the 'quantum ballerina'.

Tell us about your career journey so far – how did you get to where you are today?

When it comes to my career, I didn’t really have a plan – I just took each step as it became possible. A central question was: could I be a professional dancer and do physics at the same time? I had started dancing late, so didn’t think I could dance professionally, and focused on my studies, but opportunities to dance started to arise. I took time out of my studies at Harvard to work with various ballet companies (Zurich and Boston, for example). I continued dancing after I finished at Harvard, and an interest in dancing with robots started to arise (especially during the pandemic). I’m now based at NYU Abu Dhabi (as adjunct professor), and continue to work with Boston Ballet.

Do you consider yourself to have a mission when it comes to the work you do today?

My mission is to push the limits of creativity wherever I can, whether in performing arts or research.

If there was just one goal you could achieve in your future career, what would it be?

If I had one goal, it would be to go to the moon!

Have there been any mentors or key supporters on your journey? What has been their most valuable advice?

I have been lucky to have incredible mentors: I couldn’t have done my career without them. When it comes to advice, one mentor told me that ‘perfect is replaceable, but that being unique and different is irreplaceable’ – and that I should find strength in doing things my own way.

Merritt Moore in ballet attire dancing next to a robotic arms

Merritt, a Harvard physics graduate and Oxford PhD student in atomic and laser physics, has been nicknamed 'the quantum ballerina.'

What would you tell someone who aspires to a similar career as you?

I’d advise people to focus in on their own career and avoid comparing themselves to others. Focus on the step ahead of you and how to improve in any way you can, take small steps forwards, respond to feedback and changes, and continue forward like that.

What three personal characteristics do you think have contributed most to your success?

The first two are grit and perseverance for sure. You can throw a lot of challenges and obstacles my way and tell me ‘no’ a lot of times, and in general I don’t get phased by it. I know how to keep going; to keep moving forwards.

A third is that I’m very passionate, eager and want to learn in any way I can. I love feedback from mentors, hearing what they have to say, and growing as much as possible from it.