Tianhui Zhu and Tegan Davis working on their research project on spin in organic electronics [Photo: Tegan Davis]

IF QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY is going to change the world, it’ll take research at the cutting edge – and a lucky army of young undergraduate students will again get a chance to taste what it’s really like to push back those frontiers.

For the fourth year running, Sydney Quantum Academy is running the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program over the summer of 2023-24, in which undergraduate students interested in quantum science get a chance, over six weeks, to try out doing real research in a lab.

And in this round, a number of scholarships will be reserved for students identifying as women. “In attempting to grow the quantum ecosystem a clear priority is to better unlock the significant potential of half the population – we need to encourage more women to enter the sector,” said Prof Peter Turner, SQA’s CEO.

Last year, 21 research projects were on offer across SQA’s four partner universities – University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, UTS and Macquarie University – and more than three dozen undergraduate students answered the call. This was almost double the 20 who signed up in 2022, and more than triple the 12 who took part in the inaugural program in 2021.

Mix of theory and experimentation

“I wanted to experience what it would be like to be a research student … and I was eager to develop my experimental skills and expand my knowledge of physics,” said Tegan Davis, who’s doing a Bachelor of Science double major in physics and mathematics and a minor in astronomy at Macquarie University.

Wil Losereewanich at the Macquarie University lab where he studied silicon-vacancy centres in nanodiamonds.
Wil Losereewanich at the Macquarie University lab where he studied silicon-vacancy centres in nanodiamonds [Photo: Wil Losereewanich]

And it was a blast: “I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of theory and experimentation in my project. The process of researching and learning about the project, fabricating devices, testing and characterising them, and analysing the data was incredibly fulfilling.

“I gained a lot of knowledge and practical experience. I was able to apply concepts that I had learned during my undergraduate degree, and I gained more confidence in myself and my skills,” she added.

Tianhui Zhu, Tegan’s research lab partner on the project, ‘Spin in organic electronics’ under Prof Dane McCamey at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science at UNSW Sydney, agreed. Though she’s already doing a Bachelor of Engineering in quantum technologies at UNSW, she said the “scholarship introduced a new field that I didn’t know about before.”

“I enjoyed the interactions with the higher-level academics as well as the actual content of our research. we were privileged to perform hands-on experiments as well as fabrication. This was fun to do, and I gained heaps of lab experience from this. It definitely sparked interest in the research field for me.”

Transformative experience

Wil Losereewanich, who’s doing a Bachelor of Engineering in mechatronics at Macquarie, undertook ‘Optical force spectroscopy of silicon-vacancy nanodiamonds’ under the supervision of Dr Cyril Laplane of the Diamond Nanoscience Laboratory at Macquarie, part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS).

Tegan Davis and Tianhui Zhu present their project to fellow students and academics at The Quantum Terminal [Photo: Wilson da Silva/SQA].

He was equally stoked, calling the program “a transformative experience”.

“Science is cool and quantum science is even cooler,” he said. “My research project involved studying silicon-vacancy centres in nanodiamonds through trapping experiments with optical tweezers and optofluidics.

“It was fascinating to discover that the optical tweezer technology won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics — the same technology I used to search for and trap the best and brightest tiny diamonds!”

He also learned “that experience is fundamental to forming good judgment and making smart decisions, and that experience only comes with time,” he added. “The research project helped me hone skills in independent research and scientific inquiry. I also gained a profound appreciation of the perseverance and optimism, that working hard and not giving up can lead to meaningful results.”

Showcasing results

In March 2023, seven of the students were selected to present their research to fellow students and academics from the four universities at The Quantum Terminal, home of the SQA and a burgeoning clutch of quantum technology companies.

“There’s nothing quite like applying what you’ve learnt to solve real problems and try to make discoveries,” added Prof Turner. “Applying critical thinking skills and logical reasoning to something no one’s done before is challenging but also very rewarding. It gives you skills that will serve you in whatever career you choose.”

Some of the graduating class of SQA Undergraduate Research Scholars 2022-23 who attended the showcase presentation in March 2023 [SQA].

New projects over summer of 2023-24

SQA is again offering another round of the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program during the summer of 2023-24, with more than 20 research projects on offer and a stipend of $3,333 over the six weeks. Projects range from ‘Taming nano-vibrations’ – suitable for students with any background who have experience in programming and data analysis – to combinatorial optimisation problems in transport, suitable to students with a background in linear algebra and quantum mechanics.

Applications open on Wednesday 13 September and close on Wednesday 18 October 2023. They are open to students partway through their undergraduate degree at any university in New South Wales (who are Australian citizens or permanent residents); or to international students enrolled at one of SQA’s partner universities – University of Technology Sydney, the University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, or Macquarie University.

Students must have completed the equivalent of 1.5 years of full-time study towards their undergraduate degree by the time their research project commences (usually around December 2023). To be considered, upload a copy of your university transcript and a one-page personal statement of interest, including nominating research projects you’d like to undertake. More details below.