SQA Undergraduate Research Scholarship student Josephine Kelly at the UNSW quantum labs [Photo: Josephine Kelly]

SO MUCH SCIENCE is about understanding theory, but it’s the application of theory in the real world that makes it really come alive. That’s what students taking part in SQA’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship program said.

“It was very insightful, an amazing experience actually – to get to see all these quantum computers in real life,” said Josephine Kelly, an undergraduate student of quantum engineering and physics at UNSW.

“Being able to like fiddle with the quantum computers, see where the chip actually goes and see all its different components and how it works. It was all together a really good experience. I'm super grateful I got the chance to do it.”

For the fourth year running, Sydney Quantum Academy ran the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program, in which undergraduate students interested in quantum science get a chance, over six weeks, to do real research in a lab supervised by a leading quantum researcher. Sponsored by KPMG, it ran from January to March 2024. And students even get paid for it – receiving a stipend of $3,333 for the six weeks.

“I really, really loved this experience,” said Shoshana Spielman, a bachelor of science student majoring in mathematics at Macquarie University. “Coming from a mathematical perspective, to be able to apply it to real physical systems … and to think about math in terms of real-life systems – that was really cool for me.

“You also learn skills, like be able to code and problem solve. I'd highly recommend this experience to anyone who wants to learn more about something that's maybe out of their field, maybe pushing the boundaries – a little bit of outside what they think they can do. I think it's an amazing experience.”

Daniel Chahine, a biomedical engineering student at UTS, agreed. “I wanted to get a broader understanding of the quantum field, and I definitely did. I got to work on quantum instruments, do some electromagnetic simulations, and learn the lingo and ask lots of questions. And it was just very fun being in that environment.”

Scholarship student Shoshana Spielman (right) collecting her scholarship certificate from KPMG’s Maiyuren Srikumar; and Daniel Chahine describing his scholarship research project to fellow students at The Quantum Terminal [Photos: Wilson da Silva/SQA]

“This opportunity was really amazing,” said William Papantoniou, who’s studying a bachelor of quantum engineering and computer science in AI at UNSW, and is also president of the UNSW Quantum Engineering Society. “I got a chance to work in a lab with Dr Maja Cassidy and then some great opportunities to do simulations and actual design of a quantum resonator.”

This year, 41 scholarships were awarded, up 16% on 2023. Almost one-third of scholarship recipients identified as women, up 11% on 2023; and, for the first time, the proportion of recipients identifying as men fell – to 63% from 76% last year.

While 73% of scholarships went to Australian citizens, awardees in total hailed from 16 cultural backgrounds. Those awardees who were not Australian citizens came from 11 different countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Fiji, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Dr Mikolaj Schmidt, a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said he was delighted to have undergraduates in his lab. “They did very well – they were very talented and very driven. And it was lots of fun.

LEFT: Scholarship student William Papantoniou at Dr Maja Cassidy’s at the UNSW School of Physics [Photo: William Papantoniou]; RIGHT: Macquarie University's Prof Mike Steel and Dr Mikolaj Schmidt (first and third from left) with scholarship students Tom Walters, Kaushal Khare, Bianca Aiello, Glen Pearce and Sophia Wolczak [Photo: Mikolaj Schmidt]

“It’s a great program for both researchers and students. The students get to engage with a real research group, and probably gain a slightly different perspective. The open-ended problems in research are very different from the usual coursework. And in the end, I hope they have fun.”

“What I really like about undergraduates is their enthusiasm,” said Dr Maja Cassidy, a Senior Lecturer and Scientia Fellow in the UNSW School of Physics. “They are really keen to learn, and they get a huge amount accomplished in a short amount of time. It’s great to have that energy in the lab, and see what they achieve, and what they learn.”

Michael Egan, Director of Quantum Technologies at KPMG, said the global professional services firm was very happy to sponsor of SQA’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. “This provides talented students from a broad range of backgrounds a great quantum experience and the opportunity to be part of the quantum future.”

Some of the students who took part in the SQA's Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program at a seminar at The Quantum Terminal, where a number of students presented the results of their research [Photo: Wilson da Silva/SQA]

The fifth round of SQA’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program for 2025 will open for applications on Wednesday 28 August 2024. Be sure to stay informed by signing up to SQA’s mailing list here.