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Could Australia win the quantum computer race?

Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies, Principal Scientist from Australian Synchrtron - MX beamline, with Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos and Lucy Jones and Professor Charlie Bond.

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Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies, Principal Scientist from Australian Synchrtron - MX beamline, with Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos and Lucy Jones and Professor Charlie Bond.

Kristy Clark, ECU Reporter

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Australia now has the potential to build a fully functional quantum computer after a $25 million investment in the development of Australia’s first quantum company, Silicon Quantum Computing.

The investment has been designed to help produce a prototype quantum computer chip. But do we have what it takes to win the quantum race before it even really exists?

Human technology used to consist of fire, rocks and pointy sticks. Now we have computer parts that are smaller than atoms.

Quantum computing may be a foreign concept to most, and the technology may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but Australia could become the first country to have a fully developed quantum computer.

The minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodino said: “The power and potential of quantum computing is game changing — quantum computers are expected to exceed the combined power of all the computers currently on Earth.

“They have the potential to solve, in a matter of hours, complex problems that would take a digital supercomputer more than a lifetime to achieve. This is going to offer enormous advantages for a range of sectors, including finance, security and transport.”

So, what is a quantum computer and what makes it different from a normal computer?

Quantum computers were first theorised by physicist Richard Feynman in 1982 and are based on the science of quantum physics.

According to D-Waves Quantum Computing Company based in California: “Rather than store information using bits represented by zeros or ones as conventional digital computers do, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, to encode information as zeros, ones, or both at the same time.

“This superposition of states — along with the other quantum mechanical phenomena of entanglement and tunnelling — enables quantum computers to manipulate enormous combinations of states at once.”

In 2017, the technology is still in its infancy. Recently, Google, NASA and the CIA have been working on developing quantum computers and Google has claimed that it will have its own computer within the next five years.

Professor Andrew Peele is the director of the Australian Synchrotron, which according to its website, “is a large machine (about the size of a football field) that accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light. As the electrons are deflected through magnetic fields they create extremely bright light.”

The $220 million Synchrotron is the only one of its kind in Australia, providing unique hardware for Australian scientists, technicians and engineers.

Prof Peele told ECU Daily: “We have helped understand material properties at an atomic level that will help researchers fabricate robust qubits, which are the essential component of quantum computing.”

Sinodino believes that quantum computing will: “Help shape how we deal with health, our living spaces, our businesses, our transport systems, our financial systems and our whole economy and way of life.

“The transformative impact of quantum computing will be particularly relevant in the healthcare sector. Instead of waiting for years, personalised medicines could be made available very quickly, saving not just time, but, importantly, lives.”

John Perrone, a programmer from Perth told ECU Daily:  “Governments and corporations may be interested in quantum computing because it poses a way to find solutions to problems we literally cannot solve in any reasonable timescale.”

Commonwealth Bank of Australia is the first bank in Australia to back the technology, investing $5 million over five years into the ARC Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, which is based at the University of New South Wales.

The Chief Information Officer at CBA, Mr David Whiteing said: “The Centre is at the forefront of a global scientific race to build the first silicon based quantum computer. This race is akin to the space race half a century ago where countries wanted to be the first to fly to the moon – and in this modern race we want Australia to get there first.”

With such exciting prospects developing in the nation, people specialising in STEM fields are becoming more valuable.

According to the National Innovation and Science Agenda, within the next decade, “75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries will need skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”

The agenda also concluded that enrolments in these courses were steadily declining, however, initiatives such as the quantum computing investment are hoping to invigorate and inspire young students.

Prof Peele, told ECU Daily: “The key investment is in people – growing skills and networks of people that can work together on challenges and opportunities that can improve society is the best way to ensure that we are part of the change rather than the change just happening to us.”

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Quality journalism by ECU students
Australia’s own Silicone Valley