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The quantum computer in a grain of sand

The quantum computer in a grain of sand

Professor Michael Biercuk. Credit: Q-CTRL.

Professor Michael Biercuk. Credit: Q-CTRL.
Professor Michael J. Biercuk is a quantum physicist at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS), whose research team is based at the Quantum Control Laboratory at The University of Sydney. An entrepreneur and an innovator, Professor Biercuk is working to develop a new generation of advanced technologies powered by the physics that operate at the scale of atoms.

‘Quantum technology which harnesses quantum physics as a resource is likely to be as transformational in the 21st century as harnessing electricity was in the 19th,’ says Professor Biercuk.

‘The reality is there are deep parallels in the way we learned to harness and then exploit a new physical resource in the flow of electricity, and how we're doing the same, and have been doing the same for some years now, in accessing and harnessing quantum physics as a resource for technology.’

Professor Biercuk is also the CEO and Founder of Q-CTRL, a company he has established to help solve some of the biggest challenges in quantum technology.

‘All of the technology we see around us is powered already by quantum physics, but the means of building technology is really quite rudimentary. We have only scratched the surface of what's possible – all we are doing is exploiting bulk properties,’ says Professor Biercuk, who uses an analogy involving sand grains to explain the difference between the way quantum physics underpins today’s technology, and the manner in which it will be exploited in the emerging field of quantum technology.

‘By analogy [in today’s information technology] we start with a giant pile of sand, and if we learn the right rules, we can shape that sand into different shapes, such that it has the forms that we want. We can realise magnificent forms like incredibly artistic sand sculptures. These are magnificent in the same way we can realise a billion semiconductor devices in an area the size of your thumbnail in a microprocessor.’

‘But if instead of looking only at the giant pile of sand, if instead we could look more closely and see the individual grains of sand, we would see that a new level of complexity emerges. We would see that instead of a homogeneous mass, that there's actually a huge diversity of colours in the grains of sand. We would see that some are transparent and some opaque, some are seashell, some are stone, some are rough and some are smooth.’

‘None of this is visible when we only look at the giant pile of sand. It only becomes visible when we look closely enough, and the same is true with quantum physics and the way we build technology.’

‘The second quantum revolution is about seeing our individual grains of sand,’ says Professor Biercuk. ‘It is about looking closely enough at light and matter to the point where a new level of complexity emerges, and that complexity comes to us from quantum physics.’

Professor Biercuk’s team is leading the second quantum revolution, building devices that access all of this complexity by starting with the most fundamental particles possible – individual particles of matter (atoms) or individual particles of light (photons).

Professor Biercuk says that the work of Q-CTRL focuses on helping make quantum technology useful through quantum control engineering.

‘We make quantum systems more stable and functional, and by doing so we aim to accelerate the pathway to the first quantum computers.’

‘Our original niche was providing technical solutions to the teams that build quantum computers. The expansion opportunity for us now is to support clients who simply use or want to use quantum computers without the need to understand what’s happening inside the box. Our quantum control software tools are key to making quantum computers useful to general users.’

‘Control engineering is a key enabler of industries – this was the Wright brothers’ approach to creating the world's first successful powered airplane; from the beginning their goal was to devise a control system that would give them absolute command over the motion of a machine in every axis all the time’.

‘The Wright brothers entered a very crowded field but brought control theoretic concepts – for instance the idea that you give the pilot command over the shape of the wing – and achieved what others could not.’

‘You can play the tape over today – to walking robots and drone technology and autonomous vehicles – in every single case, it is control engineering that makes those industries succeed.’

‘And at Q-CTRL – based on the work that we have done over approximately a decade, in learning how to control and manipulate quantum systems for applications in quantum computing and quantum sensing – we are now positioned to build the quantum industry.’

Image: Professor Michael Biercuk. Credit: Q-CTRL.

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