Aussie engineers make waves in quantum computing

quantum computing

Recent award winners Andrea Morello (second from left) and Michelle Simmons (third from left) with fellow members of the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, Sven Rogge (far left) and Andrew Dzurak (far right). Image: UNSW

Two UNSW professors have won global awards for their contribution to quantum computing, a field which is becoming increasingly important for industry.

Professor Andrea Morello has been named the inaugural recipient of the Rolf Landauer and Charles H. Bennett Award in Quantum Computing by the American Physical Society. He was awarded the prize “for remarkable achievements in the experimental development of spin qubits in silicon”.

Morello specialises in developing single-atom quantum devices in silicon, which are the building blocks of a universal quantum computer. His group from the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology was the first in the world to demonstrate the read-out and control of the quantum state of a single electron and a single nuclear spin in silicon.

A fellow member of the group, Professor Michelle Simmons has also been chosen as one of five eminent female researchers from around the world named as 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO laureates in the Physical Sciences. She was named the winner for the Asia-Pacific region, “for her pioneering contribution to quantum and atomic electronics, constructing atomic transistors en route to quantum computers”.

She has taken part in the production of the world’s first single-atom transistor as well as the narrowest conducting wires ever made in silicon, just four atoms of phosphorus wide and one atom high.

Simmons has explained the importance of quantum computing.

“Computers are really fast and they’re getting very powerful. But they still can’t do fundamental things that we really need… There are many calculations we can’t do in a timely fashion with a classic computer,” she said.

“The actual smallest feature sizes are now getting towards the level of a single atom. And at a single atom, we can actually start to use the quantum states of those devices. If you can use quantum states, you can do massively parallel computing that you just can’t do with the classic computer. [This] impacts just about every industry from the finance industry to logistics, healthcare, defence – literally every industry that has a huge amount of data to sort through or wants to search things fast or perform complex algorithms.

“Just to give you an example: the United States Parcel Service in the US. They figured out that they can shorten the trip one of their drivers by one mile (1.6km) every day and actually save their company $50 million per year. A quantum computer can start to do those kinds of calculations real-time.”

As reported in PACE, it is also possible to achieve global hack-proof communications using quantum computing. China, Canada and the US are actively working on this.