A small team of physicists in Sydney have been lauded as “national heroes” by new Science and Industry minister Ed Husic after they revealed a quantum computing breakthrough set to “supercharge” economies around the world.
Pioneering Australian company Silicon Quantum Computing (SQC) on Thursday announced its team had developed the world’s first integrated circuit manufactured at an atomic scale.
The breakthrough is a “penny drop” moment for quantum scientists and could lead to entirely new materials being constructed and dramatically improved chemical processes, according to SQC founder and 2018 Australian of the Year Professor Michelle Simmons.
The integrated circuit also marks a significant milestone in SQC’s journey to build a commercial quantum computer and another display of Australia’s quantum leadership, which Mr Husic pledged to make a “national priority”.
Professor Simmons, Mr Husic, UNSW vice chancellor Professor Attila Brungs, and chair of SQC backer the Commonwealth Bank, Catherine Livingstone, launched the findings at a special event at UNSW.
But Mr Husic said the attention should be on the “national heroes” standing at the back of the crowded room – the SQC team.
“What you’re doing in terms of being able to supercharge economies and what it will do to transform those economies and make sure we are ahead of the pack is vital,” Mr Husic said.
“What you’re doing here is crucial. We need to hold on to this talent. We will celebrate it we will back it and we will make sure…the world comes here, not the other way around.”
A team of around 40 SQC scientists work at state-of-the-art facilities at UNSW, after the company was formed in 2017 with over $83 million of capital funding from the Australian Commonwealth Government, UNSW Sydney, the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra and the New South Wales government.
SQC and its team are reaping the rewards of research done decades earlier and are the exact type of people Mr Husic and the new Labor government have promised to keep in Australia amid a global race for science and technology talent.
The Albanese government is in the process of setting up a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to finance Australian manufacturing and industry projects, with $1 billion set aside for critical technologies like quantum.
Labor has also committed $4 million to increase quantum technology PhDs and research collaboration and will continue the development of a national quantum strategy the previous government began last year.
Mr Husic said the quantum sector is now a “national priority” and the government will fight to keep talent in Australia.
“We waited too long on AI and we’ve lost people [overseas]. We recognise what you’re doing here on quantum but we’ve got others that are wanting to poach you and take you overseas. We’ve had governments years before say we’re going to end the brain drain. I’m telling you; we are going to fight every single day to hold you here.”
Professor Simmons said attracting the best talent to Australia and limiting a quantum brain drain requires Australia to maintain global leadership in quantum research and development.
“We’ve got to be leading. People want to go to the leaders,” Professor Simmons told InnovationAus.com
She said the role for the government is mainly about funding to add more research and more companies based on it, with commercial applications still years away.
“Funding for the company to get more jobs in the company will be probably the biggest challenge for us the moment [at SQC].”
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