Australia – and Sydney in particular – cemented its global reputation as a quantum computing powerhouse this week, by hosting two major international conferences.
The University of Technology Sydney welcomed leading researchers from around the world for the 13th Conference on the Theory of Quantum Computation, Communication and Cryptography (TQC) which took place on Monday through to Wednesday. It was the first time the conference has been held in Australia.
The university also hosted the inaugural International Workshop on Quantum Software and Quantum Machine Learning (QSML) later in the week.
“It increases the existing reputation of Australia internationally in the quantum computing space,” said UTS Centre for Quantum Software and Information senior lecturer, Chris Ferrie.
“For many of the participants this is the first time they’ve been to Australia so they know Sydney as a place where there’s a lot of quantum computing research, but not the fine grain detail of where people are, and their specialisations. So those things are great to be able to highlight,” Ferrie, who is on the local committee that secured the conference, added.
As well as the reputational benefits, Sydney’s hosting of the conferences – which were sponsored by the likes of Microsoft, Google, Baidu and Alibaba Group – means overseas researchers are given a reason to visit, and could consider continuing their work here, said attendee University of Sydney quantum physicist Professor Stephen Bartlett.
“We’ve got about a dozen of the people who came to the conference staying another week and coming to give seminars and talks. And it’s a good opportunity to show off what we have here in Sydney, we are a big player in this field and people know about it, but if you’ve never made that flight from Europe or US it’s sometimes hard to get people to come for the first time,” he told Computerworld.
“You need a good draw card. Once they come they’re more inclined to come again or make that leap of distance,” Bartlett added.
In a tweet following the announcement, software lead of Google AI’s quantum team Dave Bacon, who travelled from California to attend, said: “Australia is a quantum computing hotbed! I mean I wish my country gave person of the year to a quantum physicist.”
Australia is a quantum computing hotbed! I mean I wish my country gave person of the year to a quantum physicist. https://t.co/GeNXVoS2sE— dabacon (@dabacon) July 19, 2018
That line is a reference to Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons, director of the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) based at UNSW, who in January was awarded 2018 Australian of the Year.
Simmons was among the guest speakers at the TQC conference, on Wednesday giving a summary of her team’s work into silicon-based quantum computing hardware.
Later in the week, the conference heard from Year 8 students at Cherrybrook Technology High School, who came in to give their critiques of quantum computing articles written by researchers for a teenage audience as part of journal Quantum’s ‘Quantum Leaps’ initiative.
“There's a backlash from the quantum community in the way research is reported – either overhyped or not accurate. So my reaction was let’s try and do something about it and make it better,” Ferrie said.
As part of the initiative, Ferrie earlier this year taught students at the school about peer review and how to be referees.
“They came in and gave their scathing reviews of these articles and said how bad the scientists were at explaining these concepts to an eighth grader. And also what they did like about them and gave some feedback on how the authors can improve these articles as a result. It was cute, the kids did a great presentation,” Bartlett said.
The school pupils’ advice included ‘add more visuals’, ‘use more real life analogies’ and ‘don’t use complex vocabulary to sound smart – you know the simple vocabulary so use it’.
“The lesson we learned was as suspected, we have a lot of work to do in terms of communicating the results,” Ferrie said.
On Thursday and Friday the QSML workshop, attracted more early career researchers and Phd students to the event than is typical at quantum conferences, observed Bartlett.
“That made it a dynamic thing with lots of new ideas and new approaches. Often a bunch of senior people in the field give a variant of the presentation they keep giving year after year. This one had a lot of energy to it,” he said.
Sydney in superposition
Sydney is the chosen home of one of Microsoft’s eight global quantum research centres, the local effort focused on the interface between quantum systems and their specialised classical control and readout hardware.
The local lab is led by Professor David Reilly and based within the Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory at the University of Sydney.
The university is also home to quantum technology start-up Q-Ctrl, founded by Professor Michael Biercuk.
The city is also the location of the CQC2T at UNSW and its spin-out quantum computing hardware company Silicon Quantum Computing which launched in August last year with investment from USNW, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Telstra, the Federal Government and the New South Wales Government.
The New South Wales government in July last year established a $26 million fund to support research into quantum computing. In March the government committed $500,000 towards developing a proposal for a Sydney Quantum Academy being drawn up by the University of Sydney; UNSW; the University of Technology Sydney, home of the UTS Centre for Quantum Software and Information; and Macquarie University, which is home to quantum science research centre QSCITECH.
In November last year, Sydney hosted another major quantum conference, the Third Conference on Spin-Based Quantum Information Processing or Spin Qubit 3, for the first time.