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Professor Michelle Simmons, who leads "the best work in the world". Photo: UNSW

Quantum computing team makes breakthrough as PM heaps praise

It’s an exciting time to be in quantum computing. On the very same day that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described University of New South Wales research in the field as “the best work in the world”, the team behind it all reported a breakthrough.

Last Friday, Turnbull and the federal minister for industry, innovation and science, Christopher Pyne, opened a quantum computing complex at UNSW in Sydney – where Turnbull praised the researchers.

Turnbull went on to describe the research as the world’s very best and praised acclaimed team leader Michelle Simmons, director of the new complex – dubbed the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T).

“You’re not just doing great work, Michelle, you’re doing the best work in the world,” Turnbull said. “You’re not just solving the computing challenges and determining the direction of computing for Australia, you are leading the world and it is a tribute to your leadership, your talent … that you’ve attracted so many outstanding scientists and engineers from around the world.”

Call it coincidence – or maybe the PM oozes an innovation aura – but on this same day the team announced a breakthrough. Researchers demonstrated that a small group of atoms placed precisely in the right spots in a silicon chip can work together as a quantum simulator.

“Our success provides a route to developing new ways to test fundamental aspects of quantum physics and to design new, exotic materials – problems that would be impossible to solve even using today’s fastest supercomputers,” explained Dr Joe Salfi, lead author of the breakthrough study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“The behaviour of the electrons in the silicon chip matched the behaviour of electrons described in one of the most important theoretical models of materials that scientists rely on, called the Hubbard model,” Salfi said.

The federal government is investing heavily in Australian quantum computing development, committing $26 million last year at the announcement of its Innovation Agenda. Private investment is also significant. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra have committed $10 million each.

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