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4 May 2023 Expert commentary

The Australian Government has released the new National Quantum Strategy, which aims to support a thriving quantum industry in Australia, placing us at the forefront of global technological innovation.

CSIRO and the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre have significant expertise in quantum technology and contributed to the National Quantum Strategy.

But what is quantum, what opportunities does it present, and how might it change our lives? CSIRO’s quantum experts explain.

More information:

What is quantum technology?

The quantum properties of matter are exploited all around us, in computers, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), smartphones, digital cameras, solar cells and batteries. All of these rely on the principles of quantum mechanics. Their design and operation are based on the behaviour of electrons and particles which exhibit quantum properties, but are not outwardly apparent to the end user.

Quantum mechanics is a discipline of physics that describes the behaviour of matter and energy at the smallest scale, such as electrons, photons, and atoms that make up our physical world.

Understanding quantum mechanics has led to the concept of quantum computing that promises to revolutionise computing power and solve some of the world's most complex problems. Quantum computers will harness the properties of quantum bits (qubits) to accomplish calculations that are simply never going to be feasible using conventional processors. Because quantum computers are based on completely different physical properties, the associated software also need to be developed - such as programming languages, compilers and input/output - to exploit quantum computers for real world applications.

We are working on new materials and devices to isolate, manipulate and sense delicate quantum states and, thereby, to unlock unprecedented capabilities for instruments that will be valuable to industries and end users.

Dr Scott Martin, Director, CSIRO’s Quantum Future Science Platform

Why is this a pivotal time for quantum?

The global quantum industry is maturing rapidly as nations invest in technology advancement. We are now at an inflection point with a wave of quantum technological disruption on the horizon.

Without quantum physics, there would be no internet, computers, or magnetic resonance imaging. Now, scientists and engineers can unlock unprecedented capabilities to isolate, control and sense individual quantum particles – such as electrons and photons – like never before.

Commercialising these technologies will create a new high growth industry with the potential to create economic growth and jobs across a range of sectors.

CSIRO forecasting shows that Australia’s quantum technology market is set to be worth $2.2 billion and generate 8,700 jobs by 2030. By 2045, this could reach nearly $6 billion in total.

Australia has world class quantum technology research and development capabilities, and we are well placed to be a global leader in the field. The National Quantum Strategy is a call to action for Australia to act now to capitalise on this potentially paradigm-shifting wave of technology.

Professor Elanor Huntington, CSIRO’s Executive Director for Digital National Facilities & Collections

What can quantum technologies be used for?

Thanks to quantum physics we can now isolate, control and sense individual quantum particles revealing previously unattainable properties. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities and new technologies, including precision sensors, secure communication networks, and a completely new form of quantum computing that has potential to revolutionise computing power as we know it.

Quantum science and technology will have many valuable uses ranging from evolutionary to revolutionary. For example, quantum sensors have been used for many years for ultra-sensitive detection in mineral exploration and medical scanning – and there are many teams around the world working on the next generations of such technologies. Quantum computers, once they are large-scale and fully error-corrected, offer the potential to model molecular structure at levels of complexity and detail that conventional computers will never be able to – and this opens the possibility of new therapeutic drugs, new advanced materials and catalysts as well as optimising highly complex systems such as transport networks. Quantum communications will be adopted that use entangled photons to protect the security of future data networks and the development of new encryption methods (Post-Quantum Cryptography) will replace todays methods to secure future telecommunications from vulnerabilities from quantum computers. Emerging areas of scientific exploration include quantum batteries, quantum robotics and quantum biology – they are exciting new directions of research with potentially revolutionary outcomes.

Quantum technologies are also starting to address real world problems in healthcare, national security, defence, communications and space.

Dr Scott Martin, Director, CSIRO’s Quantum Future Science Platform

Does Australia have a competitive advantage in quantum?

Australia has been a leader in quantum technology research and development for almost 30 years – and has produced over 2,500 PhDs in that time. Across the nation there are world-leading teams in silicon quantum computers, quantum communications, machine learning, algorithms and quantum devices, to name a few. Australia has the capability to translate these scientific advantages into commercial products and services – and to do so in Australia.

The National Quantum Strategy calls for a sustained effort from all stakeholders across Australia to build a vibrant and globally significant industry in quantum technologies. The Strategy reiterates the need to build our quantum workforce and infrastructure capability while supporting and collaborating with local and international partners.

Dr Scott Martin, Director, CSIRO’s Quantum Future Science Platform

How will quantum transform our lives?

Quantum technology has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of our lives, from computing to medicine to energy production. But there are still many technical and practical challenges that need to be overcome before quantum technology becomes a part of our everyday life.

Quantum computers have the potential to solve problems that are currently impossible for classical computers to solve. This could lead to major breakthroughs in fields like drug discovery, materials science, and cryptography.

Quantum communication is already being used to create unhackable networks, and it has the potential to revolutionise internet security. Quantum communication also has potential applications in secure voting systems, financial transactions, and military communications.

Quantum sensors have the potential to revolutionise industries such as medical imaging and environmental monitoring. For example, quantum sensors could allow doctors to detect cancerous tumours earlier and with greater accuracy than current technologies.

Quantum materials have the potential to revolutionise energy production and storage. For example, quantum dots could be used to create more efficient solar panels, while quantum batteries could store energy more efficiently than current batteries.

Quantum technology could revolutionise transportation by making it possible to create more efficient and powerful propulsion systems, as well as to optimise large, complex transport networks in near real time.

Dr Scott Martin, Director, CSIRO’s Quantum Future Science Platform

How is early stage quantum computing being used to enable research discovery in Australia?

“Supercomputers currently enable scientific research and data analysis at an unprecedented scale. Quantum computing will complement these systems by accelerating optimisation problems hard to address using classical infrastructure. Pairing these advanced technologies unlocks new computational methods and models in a number of scientific and research fields.

Australia's Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre is a leader in efforts to integrate quantum computing with already powerful research supercomputers, and is working with Australian companies, research institutions and international partners to support Australia's target to be a world-leading quantum economy.”

Mark Stickells, Executive Director, Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre is an unincorporated joint venture of CSIRO – Australia's national science agency, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia.

What is Quantum Energy? How will it affect future energy generation?

Quantum engineering is about developing new technologies that use quantum superposition and entanglement, which are distinctly nonclassical behaviours. Most of the current applications focus on quantum information science, specifically quantum computing. However, there are other areas of application emerging, such as quantum energy science. This field aims to enhance the performance of energy technologies like quantum batteries, organic solar cells, and nuclear fusion.

We are working to develop the next generation of quantum batteries and quantum-enhanced solar cells. In the future, such technologies may mean we have faster charging batteries with higher energy density; and quantum-enhanced solar cells with efficiencies beyond anything currently achievable. A focus area for us is developing the fundamental research to create the building blocks for these disruptive future technologies.

Dr James Quach, CSIRO Scientist, Quantum batteries expert


Dr Scott Martin, Director, CSIRO’s Quantum Future Science Platform
Dr James Quach, CSIRO Scientist, Quantum batteries expert
Mark Stickells, Executive Director, Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre.
Senior Executive, Digital National Facilities & Collections (Executive) Elanor Huntington

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