Australia set to ride the quantum computing wave

Tuesday 6 December 2016  banner

Scientists available for interview from the Physics Congress in Brisbane

We have the technology! The first simple quantum computers are being built all over the world as decades of research and development culminate in technology that accurately builds structures atom by atom.

Researchers already have practical plans for building usable quantum computers based on silicon, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology Professor Michelle Simmons, at the University of New South Wales, will tell the Australian Physics Congress in Brisbane on Wednesday. 

A key strategy is based on the team’s extraordinary control of individual atoms, which allows them to construct and precisely place atomic-scale devices in silicon. Michelle will also outline their approaches to scaling up their technology.

Quantum computers offer the capacity to solve problems that conventional computers cannot, especially in areas of complex modelling, cryptography, fast database searches and simulation of quantum materials. The ability to build them out of silicon, already the basis of an industry worth more than $300 billion a year, would greatly speed their commercialisation and adoption.

But fabrication is only part of the way to functioning quantum computers. These revolutionary computers will also need software, completely different kinds of algorithms to instruct their operation because they will implement multiple instructions at the same time. Professor Jingbo Wang and her colleagues in the Quantum Dynamics and Computation Group of the University of Western Australia are one of the teams already working on how to write those quantum computer programs.

Jingbo will tell the Congress about a collaboration with the University of Bristol’s Centre for Quantum Photonics to build an experimental physical model to test the quantum code written by her PhD student Thomas Loke.

physics-3 Down in Melbourne, the technology is getting a very different application.

An “atomic MRI machine” even smaller than the cells in your body is being designed by researchers at the University of Melbourne. It could provide direct insight into the “final frontier of life,” according to Viktor Perunicic.

The tiny MRI devices will be embedded in computer chips and use Australian-invented quantum computing tech to image individual bio-molecules atom by atom inside their native cellular environment, directly determining their structure: insights which have thus far been almost impossible to obtain for several key proteins in the body. The devices function completely differently from their modern equivalents, using spin qubits—the quantum equivalent of ordinary computer bits—to sensitively probe the target molecule’s nuclear spin density from close range. The team’s discoveries have recently been published in Nature Communications and could be ready for use in a matter of years.

And while much of Australia’s research into quantum computers is based around using silicon as the material of construction, postdoctoral fellow Dr Marcus Doherty at the Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University favours diamond as the platform of choice. He and his international colleagues have been looking at how to transport information between the components of a potential diamond-based quantum computer.

He will tell the Congress that the team believes that this can be done by controlling the movement of individual electrons between defects in diamonds, and will report on the team’s successful first steps towards putting this idea into practice.

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