Inside the Mind of a Top Physics Professor

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Physics professor Michelle Simmons explains why quantum computing – storing and processing information using subatomic particles – could be the key to unlocking vast amounts of data.

Why the race to develop the first quantum computer?

It’s becoming an imperative. Every industry has calculations they can’t do in a useful time frame and huge amounts of data they can’t sort through quickly enough. There’s transformational change, too. Not only will quantum computing be much faster than classical computing, it also uses a different programming and operating system. Industries are looking at all the data they have and realising that classical computers don’t have the ability to get the optimal answers.

In which fields will quantum computing make a difference?

Pretty much every industry: logistics and transport, finance and insurance, health, defence, engineering and, in terms of weather forecasting, agriculture. 
The challenge is to engage with those industries, understand what their data problems are and work out how we build the hardware to fit their problems.

Will quantum computers replace the systems on our desks?

Quantum computers are kept in a controlled environment at a very low temperature and shielded from radiation. With time, we might build more complex systems but they will still have to be in that controlled environment. It’s difficult for me to envision them as something you could put on your desk. But never say never. Technology always advances in unknown ways.

You head up Australia’s Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology. What’s the end goal for your team’s current research?

We’ve talked a lot about building a 10-qubit system within five years. We know where we want to go and we have a road map of milestones to get to that point.

How does it feel to watch the team’s progress?

It’s phenomenal. When I was young, the harder the problem, the more pleasure I felt solving it. There’s 
so much information in the world now that people 
try to make things easier, not harder, but it’s the hard things that are the most rewarding.

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