For knee injuries, surgery may not be the best option

Research finds rehab-only treatment yields better long-term results

Image credit: Jack Moreh / Stockvault.net

Knee reconstructions may lead to more problems later in life than non-surgical rehabilitation, researchers have found.

A team led by Dr Adam Culvenor from La Trobe University looked at health outcomes for athletes with damaged anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) – a devastating injury, particularly common among footballers.

ACL injuries require lengthy rehabilitation and up to 12 months on the sidelines. However, many athletes also opt for surgery to reconstruct the torn ligament in the hope that this will get them back to sport sooner and prevent the development of knee arthritis.

[continue reading…]

Hot Qubits: some background

Types of quantum computer

There are at least four main approaches towards building a quantum computer processor that have attracted major commercial investment. These are known as silicon spin qubits, superconducting qubits, ion trap qubits and topological qubits. Each brings specific challenges.

Silicon spin qubits: can operate at 1.5 kelvin

Spin qubits in silicon are excellent candidates for scalable quantum information processing, because they can be made in their billions using the same tools and infrastructure that the global computer industry already uses to make silicon chips for today’s computers and smart phones. The physical properties of silicon also mean that the qubits can be very stable and accurate. Now, thanks to Andrew Dzurak’s team, they can be operated at substantially warmer temperatures (on the quantum scale) than competing technologies.

Silicon spin qubits are the focus of several teams at UNSW. Companies using this approach include Intel, Silicon Quantum Computing, Quantum Motion and HRL Laboratories.

Superconducting qubits: require near absolute zero temperatures

These qubits are created from a loop of superconducting material, typically aluminium, combined with thin insulating barriers through which pairs of electrons can tunnel. This approach has produced the most advanced quantum computers to date, including a 53-qubit machine developed by Google which was used last October to demonstrate ‘quantum supremacy’ – meaning the quantum machine, for the first time, outperformed a large supercomputer. The technology needed to control each qubit means that scaled up machines are expected to be very large. Required operating temperatures are one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero (or -273 degrees Celsius).

Companies using this technology include Google, IBM, Intel, Quantum Circuits, DWave, and Rigetti.

Ion trap qubits: require lasers to cool atoms close to absolute zero

This approach uses one of the electrons in an ion (of calcium, for instance) to create a qubit in two states, defined either by the electron’s orbital state or its interaction with the atom’s nucleus. The ions are suspended and moved around in free space using electric and magnetic fields, which makes them easy to isolate from interference, giving them considerable stability. They were the first type of qubit to be studied more than two decades ago and there are now prototype systems with up to 20 qubits in use. On the downside, the qubits have to be held in ultra-high vacuums to prevent them interacting with other atoms, and they need to be kept cool and controlled by sophisticated lasers. Optimal operating temperatures are below a thousandth of a degree Celsius above absolute zero.

The main company using this approach is IonQ.

Topological qubits: require near absolute zero temperatures

These qubits are typically made from thin wires or sheets of a semiconductor coupled to a superconducting circuit to produce exotic states of matter known as Majorana fermions. Such a qubit has not yet been demonstrated, but it is predicted that they will be far more immune to errors than other types, which is their main advantage. Like superconducting qubits, however, topological qubits need to be cooled to temperatures around one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero.

Microsoft is the main company investing in this technology.

Timeline of the development of silicon CMOS quantum computing

1994: Peter Shor from Bell Labs (USA) shows that a quantum computer would be able to decrypt Public Key Encrypted codes (at the heart of modern secure communications) exponentially faster than today’s supercomputers. This triggers massive interest in quantum computing worldwide, mainly from government agencies.

1998: UNSW paper outlines concept for silicon-based quantum computing

Bruce Kane, a postdoctoral researcher at UNSW, publishes a paper in Nature outlining the concept for a silicon-based quantum computer, in which the qubits are defined by single phosphorus atoms in an otherwise ultra-pure silicon chip. This is the first such scheme in silicon – the material used for all modern-day microprocessors. Kane’s paper attracts great interest because: (a) silicon is ‘industrially relevant’; (b) silicon electron ‘spins’ have very long ‘coherence times’ and, hence, low error rates. This paper has now generated over 2,800 citations.

2000: UNSW research team established

Bob Clark establishes the Australian Research Council Special Research Centre for Quantum Computer Technology (CQCT), headquartered at UNSW, with the task of developing the technologies needed to build a quantum computer. The centre expanded in 2003 to become an ARC Centre of Excellence, and since 2010 has been led by Michelle Simmons (UNSW). It has more than 150 researchers in Australia, with major collaborations worldwide. In 2000, Andrew Dzurak (UNSW), a founding investigator in CQCT, begins his development of silicon device technologies for building a silicon quantum computer.

2007: A single electron device

Dzurak’s group develops a variation of a silicon Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistor (MOSFET) device that can be reduced to the level of a single electron. These devices can be manufactured using complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology, from which most silicon chips for smart phones and computers are made. The device is central to quantum computing breakthroughs by Dzurak and colleagues to this day.

2010: A qubit reader
Andrea Morello and Dzurak publish in Nature a paper describing the first step of measuring a silicon qubit. 

2012: A qubit writer

Another paper in Nature by the Morello group, “A single-atom electron spin qubit in silicon”, describes the crucial step of writing information on an electron to operate the first silicon qubit.

2014: A silicon CMOS quantum bit

Dzurak, Menno Veldhorst and Henry Yang patent the concept of a gate-addressable quantum bit based on the modified silicon MOSFET transistor.

2014: A high accuracy quantum dot qubit in silicon

A paper in Nature Nanotechnology by Dzurak’s group, with lead author Veldhorst, describes an addressable quantum dot qubit with fault-tolerant control-fidelity, which is a high accuracy qubit based on the modified CMOS transistor developed by Dzurak’s team in 2007.

2015: A two-qubit logic gate in silicon

Dzurak’s group (again with lead author Veldhorst) publishes paper in Nature titled “A two-qubit logic gate in silicon”. This is the first ever demonstration of a calculation between two qubits in silicon, meaning that all of the logic requirements for silicon quantum computing are now in place.

2017: Design for a full-scale silicon quantum computer chip

Dzurak’s group publishes a paper in Nature Communications titled “Silicon CMOS architecture for a spin-based quantum computer”. This sets out a detailed design of how computer chip manufacturers can use their existing fabrication plants build a quantum chip with millions of qubits.

2019: Most accurate electron qubit in silicon

Dzurak’s group (with lead author Yang) publishes a paper in Nature Electronics demonstrating the most accurate electron spin qubit ever, based on his silicon CMOS technology, with an error rate of only 0.04%. Such low rates are vital for full-scale quantum computers, since otherwise errors quickly accumulate and destroy any calculations.

2019: First accuracy measurement of a two-qubit logic gate in silicon

Dzurak’s group (with lead author Wister Huang) publishes paper in Nature titled “Fidelity benchmarks for two-qubit gates in silicon”, which provides the first measure of accuracy for silicon two-qubit logic. The results show that silicon is now near the threshold of accuracy needed for fault-tolerant quantum computing.

2020: Silicon CMOS qubit breaks the one Kelvin barrier

Dzurak’s group (with lead author Yang) publishes apaper in Nature titled “Silicon quantum processor unit cell operation above one Kelvin”. This is a temperature at which most other qubit types cannot operate. It also means that far cheaper cooling systems can be used, valued at thousands, rather than millions, of dollars.


Qubits are the basic units of information in a quantum computer, equivalent to the ‘bits’ in everyday computers. Like a bit, a qubit stores a binary code of a ‘0’ or a ‘1’, but unlike a conventional bit, a qubit can also be in a ‘superposition’ of both ‘0’ and ‘1’ at the same time. Every time you add one qubit to a quantum computer, the amount of information it can store and compute with doubles. This gives quantum computers an exponential increase in processing power (or speed) compared with conventional computers for a wide range of calculations (or algorithms).

Quantum superposition is a basic principle of quantum mechanics, which means that quantum systems can exist in multiple states at the same time, until you try and measure the system. A qubit is a system that has only two basic states, equivalent to ‘0’ or ‘1’, which can exist in a superposition of those, until you measure it, after which it is forced to randomly choose which one of the two states it is in, via a process known as ‘wavefunction collapse’. This principle of quantum superposition is what gives rise to the concept of Schrödinger’s cat, which can be thought of as simultaneously alive and dead, until you look inside the closed box it exists in.

Quantum coherence is related to the fact that all objects have wave-like properties. In the presence of noise, the wave-like properties get washed out, over a time known as the coherence time. To be useful for computing, you must be able to complete calculations on the qubits in a quantum computer within this coherence time, otherwise the information gets scrambled.

Quantum dots are devices or particles which are so small that they can behave like ‘artificial atoms’, and the electrons inside the quantum dot exist in specifically allowed quantum states. They can be used to create qubits.

Quantum tunnelling is the term used to describe a quantum function that has no equivalent in classical physics. Because of the wave-like properties of subatomic particles they are able to pass through seemingly impenetrable barriers even when they don’t have the energy to do so. What’s more, they can do so instantaneously. It sounds weird, but is well understood and is a key part of many human endeavours, including electronics and some types of microscopy.

Spin is a quantum property of subatomic particles, such as electrons, which is related to the particle’s angular momentum, analogous to its rotation. The spin of an electron also produces a tiny magnetic field, which will either line up in the same direction as (spin ‘up’) or opposite to (spin ‘down’) an externally applied magnetic field. An electron spin is an ideal qubit, whereby the spin up represents a ‘1’ and a spin down a ‘0’.

Silicon chips are used as computer memory or processing units in computers, smart phones, and other electrical items. They are typically about one centimetre square, and have tiny electrical integrated circuits inscribed on them, typically with billions of CMOS transistors, or memory cells. Silicon is a chemical element that is the second most abundant in the earth’s crust.

Silicon CMOS (or complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) is the technology used to make and manufacture the transistors used for information storage and processing on silicon chips. Every mobile phone has one or more silicon CMOS chips inside it.

Silicon CMOS qubit is a qubit made using standard CMOS manufacturing technology, in which the spin of one or more electrons is used to encode the quantum information (‘0’ or ‘1’).  The electrons that make up the qubit are electrically confined inside a silicon quantum dot, which is just a modified conventional transistor, as found on everyday silicon chips.

We’re open for business

Science in Public is open for business with a full suite of services including our training, which is available via Zoom, Teams, Skype etc.

The Science in Public team pre-COVID

Our team of six salaried staff are all working from home and we’re working hard to ensure that we can keep everything rolling. Government support is helping.

A few weeks ago, we thought we would be badly affected by COVID and its impact on universities. Today, we realise that we’re luckier than most small businesses. You, our clients, are successfully transitioning to home working. Our work and our products are largely created, stored and distributed online.

The Science in Public team post-COVID

And we hope that there will be a renaissance of interest in science as people recognise its importance in guiding and protecting society. Although many labs are now closed, the business of science goes on: results are still being correlated, and analysed, papers are still being written, submitted and going through peer review; journals are still being published; grant applications are still being compiled; award nominations are still being written.

[continue reading…]

Solving a mystery in 126 dimensions

After 90 years, scientists reveal the structure of benzene.

One of the fundamental mysteries of chemistry has been solved by Australian scientists – and the result may have implications for future designs of solar cells, organic light-emitting diodes and other next gen technologies.

Ever since the 1930s debate has raged inside chemistry circles concerning the fundamental structure of benzene. It is a debate that in recent years has taken on added urgency, because benzene – which comprises six carbon atoms matched with six hydrogen atoms – is the smallest molecule that can be used in the production of opto-electronic materials, which are revolutionising renewable energy and telecommunications tech.

[continue reading…]

You saw sawfish!

Hundreds of citizen science sightings reveal opportunities to protect Australia’s four iconic sawfish species

Green Sawfish (P. zijsron) – Weipa, QLD 2019
  • New hotspots for green sawfish in Weipa and Karratha.
  • A sawfish nursery in the Brisbane River until about 1950.
  • Evidence that sawfish have not completely disappeared from NSW waters, with a Newcastle sighting.
  • Juvenile sawfish reported down the WA coast.
  • More action needed in Queensland as only one species reported south of Cooktown.
  • A new call to action to step up conservation and assess the impact of net-free zones in Weipa and Queensland’s east coast.
  • And keep reporting your sightings. Together we can save sawfish.
[continue reading…]

New clues for allergy prevention by breast milk

Written by Akila Rekima and the University of Western Australia. For the full UWA press release, click here.

A research team at UWA is investigating the complex interactions of breast milk with allergens and baby’s gut immune system.

They’ve found that food-derived but also airborne allergens are present in breast milk. Some do give protection and reduce allergies later in life.

[continue reading…]

Australia Day Honours


Margaret Elaine GARDNER


For eminent service to tertiary education through leadership and innovation in teaching and learning, research and financial sustainability.

Bruce Gregory ROBINSON


For eminent service to medical research, and to national healthcare, through policy development and reform, and to tertiary education.

Anthony William THOMAS


For eminent service to scientific education and research, particularly in the field of nuclear and particle physics, through academic leadership roles




For distinguished service to Indigenous education and research, to the law, and to the visual and performing arts.

Shaun Patrick BRENNECKE


For distinguished service to medical education and research in the fields of obstetrics and gynaecology, and to professional societies.



For distinguished service to medical education and research, particularly to ageing and age-related diseases.

Charles Roderick CURWEN


For distinguished service to the Crown, and to public administration in Victoria, to medical research, and to Australia-China business relations.



For distinguished service to medical education in the fields of epidemiology and rheumatology, and to professional associations.

John Kinley DEWAR


For distinguished service to education through leadership roles in the universities sector, and to professional organisations.

Gillian Margaret GROOM


For distinguished service to the community through healthcare, medical research, and social welfare organisations, and to the law.

Jules Mitchell GUSS


For distinguished service to education and scientific research in the field of molecular bioscience, and to professional organisations.

John Reginald PIGGOTT


For distinguished service to education, to population ageing research, and to public finance policy development.

Alison Joan RITTER


For distinguished service to education, to drug and alcohol research and social policy, and to professional medical societies.



For distinguished service to medical education and research in the field of microbiology and immunology, and to professional groups.

Matthew Roy SANDERS


For distinguished service to education and research in clinical psychology, and to child, parent and family wellbeing.

Robert (John) SIMES


For distinguished service to education, and to medicine, in the field of cancer research and clinical trials.

Raymond Louis SPECHT


For distinguished service to science, and to education, in the fields of botany, plant ecology and conservation.

Geoffrey Wayne STEVENS


For distinguished service to education, to chemical engineering and environmental remediation, and as a mentor.

Brian Harrison WALKER


For distinguished service to science, particularly to ecosystem ecology and research, and to professional scientific bodies.

Rachel Lindsey WEBSTER


For distinguished service to education in the field of astrophysics, to astronomical research, and to young women scientists.

Jeffrey David ZAJAC


For distinguished service to medical research and education, particularly in the field of endocrinology, and to professional societies.



For distinguished service to science as a journalist, radio presenter and author, and to education


Bruce Richard BROWN


For significant service to the pearling industry, and to marine research.

Lyndon Mayfield BROWN


For significant service to the pearling industry, and to marine research.

Geoffrey Michael CURRIE


For significant service to nuclear medicine and medical radiation science.

Stephen Vincent COLES


For significant service to veterinary science, and to professional bodies.

Christopher John CLEMENTS


For significant service to international public health through immunisation programs.

Karen Patricia DAY


For significant service to science education, and to global public health.

Robert John EDGAR


For significant service to the banking and finance sectors, and to medical research organisations.

Graham John FAICHNEY


For significant service to science in the fields of animal nutrition and physiology.

Peter Charles FLINN


For significant service to agricultural research through the promotion of near-infrared spectroscopy.

Anthony John GUTTMANN


For significant service to the mathematical sciences, and to education

Janice Leona HILLS


For significant service to veterinary science, and to the community.

Geoffrey Ian HUSTON


For significant service to science, and through pioneering roles with the internet.



For significant service to science, and to the broadcast media.

Peter James PLUMMER


For significant service to higher education, to health research, and to public administration.

Steven Russell RAINE


For significant service to soil science and agriculture, and to education.

Peter William RIDDLES


For significant service to science, to biotechnology, and to innovation.

Robert Keith SHEPHERD


For significant service to biomedical research, and to education.

Richard Ashton WARNER


For significant service to agricultural research and development.

Roderick Tucker WELLS


For significant service to education, and to the biological sciences.

Ann Felicity WESTMORE


For significant service to medical history, and to science communication.

Justin John YERBURY


For significant service to education and research in the field of biological sciences.

Alyson Marie AULIFF


For exceptional service to the Australian Defence Force in malaria research




For service to science as a communicator



For service to science education, and to women.



For service to medical research, particularly to population health.

Christopher John QUINN


For service to research science in the field of plant systemics.

Michael John WILSON


For service to community health, particularly to diabetes research.

Public Service Medal (PSM)

Nguyen Thi Thanh AN

For outstanding public service in fostering the Australia-Vietnam bilateral relationship in agricultural research.

Stephen Moile CORDNER


For outstanding public service to forensic medical and scientific services, training and research in Victoria.

Robert John EDGAR


For significant service to the banking and finance sectors, and to medical research organisations.

Victor Hutton ODDY


For outstanding public service to the primary industry sector, and to science, in New South Wales.

James Richard PEARSON


For outstanding public service to forensic science, particularly to chemistry, in Victoria

Is that plant healthy?

We can’t easily monitor the health of plants, by the time we see that they’re sick it’s usually too late to save that. That’s an issue for your house plants, a field of wheat, orchards and plantations.

Karina Khambatta has developed a way to use the waxy surface of leaves to monitor their health.

Currently the technique uses infrared spectroscopy to study changes seen throughout leaf senescence. Karina has had the opportunity to utilise the infrared microscopy lab located at the Australian Synchrotron to help correlate her infrared studies undertaken at Curtin University, but Karina believes it can be turned into a handheld device that could be used on-farm, like reading a barcode.

[continue reading…]

Cheaper, more efficient lithium sulfur battery outperforms current electric car battery fourfold

An “Expansion-Tolerant” Architecture offers stability to ultra-high capacity Lithium-Sulfur battery

A lithium sulfur battery that has four times the capacity than existing electric car batteries has been built and tested by researchers at Monash University, revealed in a paper published in Science Advances.

This would allow you to drive Melbourne to Sydney with just one charge – driving the coastal route. A current edition prius would require to stop in Albury-Wodonga to recharge.

[continue reading…]

Peanut Allergy: a pain in the guts

Deakin researcher discovers allergy mechanism.

Image credit – Pexels

Peanut allergens cross a model of the gut lining, causing it to leak, new research by Dr Dwan Price from Deakin University in Victoria has revealed.

The allergens hijack the transport mechanisms of cells in the intestine, disrupting the bonds that hold the gut lining together, making it permeable.

The allergens hijack the transport mechanisms of cells in the intestine, disrupting the bonds that hold the gut lining together, making it permeable.

[continue reading…]