A Sydney University startup is making exciting progress in the high-stakes race of quantum computing, and has become one of just eight startups worldwide to join IBM’s exclusive ‘Q Network’.
Quantum computing startup Q-CTRL is “the first spin-off company derived from the university’s current strategic support for quantum research,” said Susan Pond, director of the University of Sydney Nano Institute. And now it’s the only startup outside the US and Canada to join IBM’s network of companies working to advance quantum computing.
Q-CTRL, the brainchild of University of Sydney quantum scientist Professor Michael J. Biercuk, is focusing not on the hardware side of quantum computing, but on using software to solve one of the discipline’s major issues: qubit instability.
As Biercuk told The Australian Financial Review, quantum systems in their current form can’t function effectively for long periods of time.
“Quantum systems lose their ‘quantumness’ over time. They react with their environments and get randomised – it’s hardware independent, and all quantum systems suffer from it,” he said.
Qubits, the building blocks of quantum computing processing power, are slippery little things and degrade rapidly. This makes quantum computers highly susceptible to errors regardless of how the machine is constructed.
This universal problem is the main focus of Q-CTRL. The startup is working on cloud-based software that sits above the qubits and manipulates them, which in turn stabilises them.
“Quantum control is a powerful tool to improve the performance of quantum devices, preventing errors even before they accumulate,” Biercuk said.
“The firmware tools Q-CTRL is building have had their performance validated in the lab and show orders of magnitude improvement in reducing qubit errors without the need for changing the underlying hardware.”
Make IT happen
The partnership was announced at the first IBM Q Summit Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California, and will give the startup access to transformative resources including IBM’s quantum hardware.
In addition, the startup is now part of an international network of other companies and researchers invested in quantum computing, including JPMorgan Chase, Samsung, Hitachi Metals, Honda and Oxford University.
“As IBM continues to scale-up its quantum computers, we will gain direct access to the company’s most advanced devices and have an opportunity to help solve some of quantum computing’s most vexing challenges,” Biercuk said in a statement.
“Our techniques are already validated through our ion-trapping laboratory. Working with IBM gives us a new opportunity to test these concepts on a totally different kind of quantum computing hardware.”
Australia leading the way
This announcement is part of a wave of investment throughout Australia in quantum computing.
In March the NSW Government supported Sydney’s emerging status as a global hub of quantum research after they issued a grant of $500,000 to set up the Sydney Quantum Academy. Led by Sydney University, the initiative has also been joined by the University of NSW, Macquarie University and University of Technology Sydney.
Earlier in the year, the success of quantum researchers was acknowledged when UNSW researcher Michelle Simmons was named as Australian of the Year for her and her team’s contributions to the development of a silicon-based quantum computer.
Evidence suggests investment in quantum computers could have a significant payoff. In February Goldman Sachs predicted quantum computing would be a US$29 billion industry by 2021.
Outside of finance, the impact of quantum computing is immeasurable.
“Quantum technology will be as transformational in the 21st Century as the harnessing of electricity was in the 19th,” Biercuk said.
“Quantum computing in particular promises to totally upend the way we process information, rendering previously uncomputable problems manageable – from the chemistry underpinning pharmaceutical discoveries to major challenges in codebreaking and materials science.”