Behind the numbers

The QRA team, nearly all of whom are Dal grads or students. Back row: Salman Mohammed, Doug Staple, Micah McCurdy, Dean Tsaltas, Alex McCallum, Eduardo Vaz, John Mason. Front row: Alex Campbell, Jordan Kyriakidis, Christy MacDonald, Elliot Snow-Kropla, Ron Tanswell. (Paul Douglas photo)

Kevin Bradley, DalNews— April 30, 2015—For many of us, the computing that runs our smartphones and keeps airplanes in the sky might as well be magic. Yet behind every component there’s an algorithm and an engineer. And somehow, after much trial and error, that engineer makes everything work together in the end.

Jordan Kyriakidis and his company, QRA Corp., is hoping to eliminate as much trial and error from the process as possible with unique software that can detect errors before they are built into a prototype.

“What we do is we detect design faults in big, complicated embedded systems,” he explains. “Like airplanes, smart buildings.” By detecting faults early in the design process, this software can save companies enormous amounts of money, time and effort that would otherwise go towards building a defective prototype.”

Dr. Kyriakidis is a professor in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science at Dal and the president and CEO of QRA Corp. His background is in condensed matter physics. The foundations of the software the company is based on came from multiple research projects at Dal involving undergrads, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

“As the work kept evolving, the limiting factor wasn’t scientific anymore,” he says, speaking to where he felt these projects needed to go next. “It was commercial. We hired developers to help build a product and apply it.”

A local company with global reach

The company will soon begin to maintain a presence in Crystal City, a suburb of Washington D.C., to reach new potential clients. But the company remains based in Halifax, and Dr. Kyriakidis plans on continuing to build the company here.

“We are a Halifax based company, and we will remain so indefinitely,” he says. The office always boasts at least one university co-op student. “We see that as a way to attract talent,” he explains.

From its headquarters on Quinpool Road, QRA is already doing business with international aerospace giants like Lockheed Martin.

Breaking records

One member of the QRA team, Douglas Staple, set a new world record in January for writing an algorithm that can calculate the number of prime numbers less than 1026. For reference, that’s about the number of metres it would take to pass through the centre of the Earth.

“I’ve always been interested in number theory for fun,” says Dr. Staple, who completed the project as part of his Masters degree in Mathematics at Dal with Professor Karl Dilcher. “In order to break the world record, I really had to improve my programming skills. I’m working as an algorithm designer here at QRA, so it was pretty relevant to my work.”

It pushes one’s skills as a mathematician and computer programmer,” he adds.

Will he go for 1027? “I have some more ideas that are promising,” he says. “But for now, I’m going to write up the method, publish the paper and finish up this master’s program.”