CSIRO’s $3.6m for quantum PhDs to boost skills pipeline

Brandon How

Four university-private sector quantum research initiatives have been funded through the CSIRO’s $3.6 million Next Generation Quantum Graduates Program, effectively delivering on an Albanese government election commitment.

Overall, the program will fund 16 PhD scholarships that will enable four research projects across 11 Australian universities. The work ranges from research into the foundations of a quantum internet to technology for observing biological processes at a sub-atomic level.

The Next Generation Quantum Graduates Program is designed to leverage existing university resources, activities, and networks to bring students together to work on challenges proposed by industry partners.

Funding for a quantum technology PhD program was announced by Labor in May 2022, before funding was committed CSIRO in April. The program will fund scholarships and allowances from 2024 to 2029.

CSIRO also closed the final grant round of its non-industry specific $15.5 million Next Generation Graduates Program in late October.

Sydney Quantum Academy scholarship student from Macquarie University Raji Nair. Image: Sydney Quantum Academy

CSIRO’s Data61 science director Dr Aaron Quigley said the project would help keep Australia at the forefront of quantum technology and represented “some of Australia’s most ambitious work in quantum for the next generation”.

“The research has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of not just computing but the world around us. Working alongside industry, these students will be able to take their ideas to impact the lives of people everywhere,” Dr Quigley said.

“This pipeline of homegrown talent will help accelerate our thriving local quantum technology industry, right here in Australia. This is a key time for quantum technology globally, and projects like these further demonstrate Australia’s leadership.”

One of the lead research institutions is Deakin University which will use the grant to continue supporting work through its distributed quantum computing program, which looks into how quantum computers communicate with one another.

Work on supporting algorithms and software currently being developed at the university will underpin work on quantum networking and support the development of a quantum internet and its Cisco Quantum Lab.

Meanwhile at the University of Queensland based Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in quantum biotechnology, research will be undertaken to develop technology for observing biological processes at the subatomic level. Industry partners include Orica, Elemental Instruments, and Q-CTRL.

The third project is being led by Swinburne University of Technology which will look to integrate its cold atom quantum technology and 3D printing with the technology of Victoria-based quantum firm Infleqtion.

The aim is to develop a miniaturised and portable experimental platform for cold atom quantum technologies, which CSIRO says, “are among the most promising for precise sensing, communication, and navigation”.

The final funding commitment was made to the Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA) – a collaboration between Macquarie University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, and the University of Technology Sydney – to help fund “the future pipeline of Australia’s quantum leaders” by supporting projects that advance the quantum industry.

Industry partners include Diraq, Eigensystems, KPMG, BTQ, and Lockheed Martin. SQA also runs its own PhD scholarship program and supports delivery of the Next Generation Graduates Program.

CSIRO’s chief scientist Dr Bronwyn Fox said described quantum as “one of Australia’s most promising growth opportunities” to highlight the need to “be attracting, training and retaining Australia’s next generation of quantum technology specialists”.

“We need to be developing their capabilities and connections through professional development in complementary, including business, management, entrepreneurship, ethics or human-centred design,” Dr Fox said.

“The Next Generation Quantum Graduates Program does all of that.”

The announcement comes a week after the federal government began accepting submissions from quantum computing firms to establish a new Australian Centre for Quantum Growth, first announced in the 2023-24 federal budget.

Support for the local quantum sector continues in spite of secret government plans to acquire a full-stack error-corrected quantum computer, of which a US-based company is reportedly frontrunning.

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