Microsoft deepens University of Sydney quantum research partnership

Microsoft has beefed up its efforts to commercialise quantum computing, giving the university funding for new equipment, staff, and talent, as researchers delve deeper into the underlying technology.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The University of Sydney (USyd) has signed a multi-year quantum computing partnership with Microsoft, officially launching the university's Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory, Station Q Sydney, on Tuesday to seal the agreement.

Directed by professor David Reilly from the School of Physics and housed inside the AU$150 million Sydney Nanoscience Hub, Station Q Sydney joins Microsoft's other experimental research sites at Purdue University in the US, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and Denmark's University of Copenhagen.

It is expected the investment from Microsoft will provide Station Q Sydney with equipment, allow for the recruitment of new staff, and help build scientific and engineering talent, in addition to helping researchers progress their work in developing quantum technologies.

"It was only 40 years ago that the computing revolution really took hold, realising Microsoft's vision for personal computers to be on every desktop; Microsoft is now focused on what we see as potentially even more impactful -- making the quantum leap," said Douglas Carmean, a member of Microsoft's Quantum Architectures and Computation group.

"Our significant investment in quantum computing is a collaborative effort between Microsoft and academia and this is what will ultimately accelerate the transition from pure research to the development of useful quantum machines."

The focus of Reilly and his team at Station Q Sydney is to bring quantum computing out of the laboratory and into the real world where it can have genuine impact. Riley noted that USyd has reached a point where it can move from mathematical modelling and theory to applied engineering for significant scale-up.

Reilly's team has already demonstrated how spin-off quantum technologies can be used in the near-future to help detect and track early-stage cancers using the quantum properties of nanodiamonds. Scientists at the university have also developed a machine learning technique to predict the demise of quantum computing systems in a bid to keep quantum bits (qubits) from breaking.

The partnership follows a visit Microsoft made to the university's lab in April, and sees the tech giant expand on the supporting role it previously played for quantum development at USyd.

In a bid to further the advancements New South Wales-based researchers are making in quantum computing, the state government similarly announced a AU$26 million fund on Tuesday that it hopes will "supercharge" the development and commercialisation of quantum technologies.

"NSW researchers are already pushing the boundaries in this exciting field and the new fund will help to build even more momentum behind their work," Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills and Small Business John Barilaro said, noting that it is impossible to overstate the potential benefits of quantum computing.

"It's widely recognised globally that NSW is well and truly punching above its weight in the field of quantum computing," he said.

Quantum computing is expected to revolutionise the world, with Australia well-placed to be the first across the quantum finish line.

Speaking at the recent D61+ Live conference in Melbourne, professor Michelle Simmons, director at the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology (CQC2T) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), said a quantum computer will have the capacity to perform complex mathematical equations within minutes that would otherwise take a classical computer years or even centuries to complete.

Simmons said it's predicted 40 percent of all industry in Australia will be impacted by quantum computing, pointing also to the interest and investments the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has made in quantum computing thus far.

A team of researchers Simmons led unlocked the key to enabling quantum computer coding in silicon in late 2015, announcing that UNSW had the capability to write and manipulate a quantum version of computer code using two qubits in a silicon microchip.

The breakthrough followed on from an announcement made a month prior when another team of engineers from the university built a quantum logic gate in silicon, which made calculations between two qubits of information possible.

Engineers at UNSW then announced in October they had created a new qubit that remains in a stable superposition for 10 times longer than previously achieved, expanding the time during which calculations could be performed in a future silicon quantum computer.

It isn't just UNSW and USyd making quantum breakthroughs in Australia; the University of Technology in Sydney also launched its new Centre for Quantum Software and Information in December, dedicated to the development of the software and information processing infrastructure required to run applications at quantum scale.

Meanwhile in the nation's capital, physicists at the Australian National University successfully completed an experiment to stop light in September, a critical step in developing future quantum computers.

The research was supported by funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, which involves ANU, UNSW, USyd, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, Griffith University, and Australian Defence Force Academy, along with 12 international university and industry partners.

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