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Merritt Moore IT’05

Quantum Leap

A year at SYA gave Merritt Moore IT’05 the confidence to pursue a life in dance and physics.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Dr. Merritt Moore IT’05 selected Italy as her SYA destination. Birthplace of many a famous polymath, it is a country where art and science have long informed each other. For Moore, a professional ballerina who in December 2017 earned a Ph.D. in atomic and laser physics from Oxford University, Italy provided both the backdrop and the springboard to pursue, and even merge, her seemingly disparate passions. “There is something about full cultural immersion that is at once disorienting and intensely invigorating,” she says. “Being thrust into Italy’s history and language and getting to see the works of its greatest masters in person, rather than in the pages of a book, instilled a cultural literacy—an ease with straddling cultures and ideas—that still very much informs my life and work.” And Moore has the vita to prove it.

Merritt Moore IT’05

As a Harvard undergraduate and physics major, she opted to take a year “off” to dance with the Zurich Ballet Company. To ensure she kept her scientific skills up to snuff, Moore spent her lunch hours at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology auditing a quantum mechanics course. Later, upon returning to Boston, she was hired by the Boston Ballet and danced full-time as a company member during the fall of 2010. She returned to Harvard the following semester, graduating magna cum laude in physics in 2011.

In the intervening years, Moore has faithfully pursued both of her life passions, often adjourning to the hallways of Oxford’s physics facilities to practice pliés in a lab coat. While studying quantum optics, she has managed to carve out time to dance with the English National Ballet and the Norwegian National Ballet, and in summer 2017, revived a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut when she was selected to participate in the BBC2’s reality elimination series “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?”

“There is something about full cultural immersion that is at once disorienting and intensely invigorating.”

— Merritt Moore IT’05

Now, whether she is giving an interview to the New York Post or The Telegraph, delivering a Tedx speech, or performing alongside robots (yes, robots) for a special exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Moore is always eager to underscore the interplay between her two great loves. As she recently told Assembly, a publication of the Malala Fund, “ … creativity is needed all the time in the lab to think of new solutions … [and to] visualize problems in a different way. And in the dance world, being analytic allows you to stretch the limits of your physical abilities while finding new, innovative forms of movement.”

Going forward, Moore intends to nurture these two passions with her signature moxie. Of her current plans to explore artificial intelligence and machine learning through dance, she says, “I don’t know what the path is going to be, because I don’t take the conventional path.”