And the engineering task at hand is significant: Tim is working on devices that would enable single atoms in solid hosts to work as quantum bits. His work – and the work of the University of Sydney’s Quantum Integration Laboratory (with supervisor Dr John Bartholomew) – is building the hardware for the quantum internet.

Tim is developing this new type of qubit made from single atoms of the rare earth element erbium, which has been doped or implanted into optically active crystals.

“My fun tagline is that I shine very special light, on very small things,” he says.

“Erbium responds to wavelengths of light that are transmitted with very low loss through optical fibres. So, I am developing an architecture of quantum electronic and photonic devices to interact with single ion qubits,” he says.

These could potentially be connected to fibre optic cables at room temperature to create large-scale quantum networks.

Tim Newman, Sydney Quantum Academy PhD Scholarship Recipient at the University of Sydney

The path to quantum

“I've always been a ‘way things work’ kind of guy,” says Tim. Growing up, he took appliances like radios apart to see what made things tick, and continues to spend much of his free time maintaining and working on musical equipment.

Music is an ongoing passion for Tim. He played various musical instruments over the years including bass guitar and also sings (he’s a baritone). Since school, he has been deeply involved in electronic music, spending his days off making music at home with synthesizers and drum machines.

While he was an undergrad, he even founded a small record label, both pressing records for local and domestic artists and hosting gigs. He is still a passionate and engaged member of the Sydney music scene, despite replacing the late nights of DJing with late nights in the lab.

Tim completed a combined Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) and Bachelor of Science (Advanced Physics) degree at the University of Sydney, finishing up in 2015. He was the first employee of Hullbot, a start-up company developing underwater robots, used for cleaning boats among other things.

While at Hullbot, he enrolled in a Master of Philosophy by research in Physics back at the University of Sydney.

“I had unfinished business with fundamental science,” he says. His MPhil was supervised by Professor David Reilly, and involved developing hardware for large-scale cryogenic electronic experiments in the Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory and Microsoft Station Q based at the University of Sydney. Tim describes it as “two years of upskilling technically and theoretically, to be an engineer for physicists.”

“I still don’t see myself as a fundamental physicist; I remain an engineer in a physics lab,” he says. “But the engineering skills I have are very valuable to an experimental physics lab – knowing how to design things and make things that exist, rather than just theoretical treatments of particular phenomena.”

Tim says that when designing experiments, engineers think about three key things: What can I buy that exists already? What must I make myself? and how do I mesh all those things together?

“The timescales of the work that we're doing, building a whole new lab and developing an experiment from an empty room, all the way to a fridge, lasers, electronics, optics, and complex devices like single photon detectors – this needs more than three years, and the SQA scholarship makes that possible.”

Tim Newman

The benefits of an SQA scholarship

Tim’s work is supported by an SQA Supplementary Extension Scholarship covering the period of his candidature outside his primary PhD stipend.

“The guaranteed funding of an extra 12 months provided by the SQA scholarship on top of the three years that the university already provides means everything to me,” he says.

Over the past two and a half years, he has worked with Dr Bartholomew to build up the infrastructure for their brand-new lab.

“The timescales of the work that we're doing, building a whole new lab and developing an experiment from an empty room, all the way to a fridge, lasers, electronics, optics, and complex devices like home-made magnets and single photon detectors – this needs more than three years, and the SQA scholarship makes that possible.”

The work has gone far beyond lab-building, with some real breakthroughs already underway.

“We've conducted higher resolution spectroscopy on some materials than anyone in the world, have designed and made optical and electronic devices and experimental setups, and we're now ready to start using those devices to address qubits,” Tim says.

It may well turn out that having an engineer in the quantum physics lab is essential to the future of the quantum internet – as long as that engineer can create and connect qubits at the scale of single atoms.


Want to pursue a quantum PhD? 

Check out our PhD scholarships now to see if you're eligible for funding. You could study with world-leading experts at one of our partner universities including the University of Sydney, UNSW, UTS and Macquarie University.

Studying a quantum PhD at the University of Sydney

The University of Sydney’s $150 million Nanoscience Hub houses laboratories for Superconducting Quantum Circuits, Quantum Control, Quantum Integration, and Quantum Nanoscience, all with strong connections to the Quantum Theory Group. The Superconducting Quantum Circuits Laboratory designs and fabricates superconducting circuits to explore fundamental physics and build hardware for high-performance quantum technologies. The Quantum Control Laboratory explores new ways to control quantum systems for use in quantum computing, simulation, and sensing. The Quantum Integration Laboratory builds quantum internet hardware that leverages interactions between light, electronics, and atoms embedded in crystals. Whereas the Quantum Theory Group explores a wide range of fundamental and applied questions ranging from the foundations of quantum mechanics to how to build practical quantum technology. The University of Sydney also hosts the global research node of the Microsoft Station Q network which, in partnership with the Quantum Nanoscience Laboratory, is focused on engineering interfaces between classical and quantum systems for more powerful quantum machines. See more.