Employee Spotlight: Mark Jack

Zapata Employee Spotlight: Mark Jack

As anybody who has been to one of the races can tell you, our partnership with Andretti Autosport is one of Zapata’s most exciting customer projects yet. And that isn’t just because the cars are whizzing by at 200mph. Our work with Andretti Autosport has been a proving ground for years of research and engineering. Not only are we upgrading Andretti’s infrastructure to be quantum-ready, we’re also building cutting-edge machine learning models to elevate the team’s strategy and win more races.  

As a key member of the Andretti project service delivery team, Mark’s customer relationship skills, thought leadership and ML expertise have been indispensable

Steve Stern, VP of Customer Solutions

Our work with Andretti has been a team effort, but Mark Jack has arguably been the face of the collaboration. As a Quantum Application Scientist on the Professional Services team, Mark has worked closely with Andretti engineers and race strategists to discover use cases where Zapata can add value. These use cases include building models to predict tire degradation, fuel saving opportunities, competitor behavior and other crucial race strategy decisions.  

Mark Jack’s contributions to the Andretti project have not gone unnoticed. “As a key member of the Andretti Project service delivery team, Mark’s customer relationship skills, thought leadership, and ML expertise have been indispensable as we navigate the use case research phase of this highly visible and important Zapata program,” said Steve Stern, VP of Customer Solutions. 

Well before joining Zapata, Mark has been at the forefront of physics since the very beginning of his career. Born to a German mother and American father, Mark grew up in Germany and got his start researching particle physics at DESY, Germany’s largest particle accelerator, while pursuing his Ph.D. in Physics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. With a restless intellectual curiosity, he then moved to the States to study computational neuroscience for his postdoc at UCLA.  

After finishing his formal education, Mark put down his roots in Tallahassee, Florida, where he helped build a Ph.D. program at Florida A&M University as an Associate Professor of Physics. His research focus during this time was on quantum electron transport in carbon nanostructures and organic systems. Meanwhile, he was also working on large scale molecular modeling research using high performance computing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

After more than a decade in academia, Mark shifted his focus once again to join the private sector. It was while working as a data scientist at True Anthem and KPMG that he began to develop an interest in quantum computing — particularly quantum machine learning. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he filled his newfound free time with virtual conferences and workshops devoted to quantum computing, absorbing all the knowledge he could. Before long, he landed his first job in quantum computing at the PlanQK Consortium in Germany, where he worked on helping to build a platform for hosting quantum applications and orchestrating workflows (sound familiar?). 

It was only a matter of time before Mark would end up at Zapata. Long before he started working in quantum computing, he had already met Zapata founder Alán Aspuru-Guzik at Harvard via a mutual contact at MIT. The two chatted about their mutual passions for physics and computational science for over half an hour in Alán’s office back in 2006. By 2021, he was ready to move back to the US, and Zapata’s remote-first culture would allow him to travel back to Europe to visit family. Plus, his experience at PlanQK lined up perfectly with the work he would do at Zapata. Everything clicked, and in October 2021, he was hired as a Quantum Application Scientist.  

It didn’t take long for Mark Jack to make a name for himself at Zapata as the point man on the Andretti project, which kicked off in earnest within six months of his start date. Now that the use case discovery phase is complete, the next phase of the Andretti project will involve using the data from this season to build machine learning models in the cloud so they’re ready to be tested in next year’s racing season.  

Mark immediately struck me as a consummate professional. He’s extremely reliable and is well versed in the necessary technical minutiae while at the same time being responsive, kind and open to ideas.

Collin Farquhar, Quantum Application Scientist

However, as exciting as the Andretti project may be, it isn’t Mark’s proudest achievement since joining Zapata. Always a teacher at heart, he takes more pride in onboarding his fellow team members, building bridges across the organization and guiding them to success.  

“Mark is very helpful and knowledgeable when I seek advice and resources in work,” said Hua Li, who onboarded with Mark this past June. “He listens patiently and cares about others’ thoughts.” Collin Farquhar, another recent protégé, agreed, noting “Mark immediately struck me as a consummate professional. He’s extremely reliable and is well versed in the necessary technical minutiae while at the same time being responsive, kind and open to ideas.”  These sentiments were echoed by Margarita Mayoral Villa, a machine learning engineer who also recently onboarded with Mark: “Mark is a very interesting person with a lot of knowledge in the field, a great conversationalist, and undoubtedly an inspiring leader who always has the time to give you the feedback you need.”

Mark hopes to share his knowledge further by working with universities to set up training courses in quantum computing, helping to fill a critical talent gap in the quantum ecosystem. 

Mark’s intellectual curiosity knows no bounds, but these days he’s particularly excited about the possibilities of reinforcement learning and the potential for quantum computing to accelerate it. He envisions a day when reinforcement learning can support far-reaching use cases including autonomous vehicles and nuclear fusion reactors.  

When he’s not at the racetrack or visiting family in Berlin, Mark lives in Atlanta, where he fills his free time with early morning workouts, long runs, salsa dancing, and (of course) reading all about quantum computing and machine learning. He’s also a die-hard Trekkie, which perhaps inspired his interest in physics in the first place. His favorite quote from the show, “Dr. McCoy, even on this side of the universe 2 + 2 equals 4,” reflects his philosophy when it comes to science: stay steadfast in your scientific grounding and don’t be easily shaken by new circumstances.