Ven Chenniappan, an SQA Next Generation Program scholar, originally from India, at UNSW [Grant Turner/SQA]

EVEN AFTER YEARS of working as a research engineer in high tech instrumentation, Ven Chenniappan never lost his love of physics. So why not combine the two and work in quantum computing?

“There is no other field that deals with nature at its most fundamental level than quantum computing – as an engineer, it is the closest you can get to quantum physics,” Chenniappan said.

“I am a more hands-on person; I’m really interested in the application side of technology. That’s why the fabrication side of quantum computing appeals to me. It’s the right balance between what is possible in theory, and what you can make in the real world.”

Making things has been his lodestar since graduating from India’s National Institute of Technology with a bachelor in instrumentation and control engineering, then a master’s and later PhD in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

He continued research work in industry – on semiconductors at Silanna in Sydney, and later, fibre optic instrumentation at Finisar. But the physics bug never left, so he started another degree in quantum computing at UNSW – hoping to eventually land a job in quantum fabrication.

Ven Chenniappan using an optical profilometer to measure the surface profiles and roughness of fabricated samples

That’s when he heard about Quantum Next Generation scholarships, offered in 2023, to Australian domestic PhD students studying quantum technologies. A new set of scholarships is now available under the Next Generation Quantum Graduates Program, funded by CSIRO and managed by Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA).

It was perfect: his PhD could focus on quantum technologies while he also worked at quantum computing start-up Diraq – building real devices that push the boundaries of physics, under the supervision of Dr Wee Han Lim and Dr Fay Hudson, both jointly at UNSW and Diraq.

Which goes to show that it’s never too late to retrain and pursue what really inspires you – even if you have been in a career for decades: Chenniappan is 48.

The Next Generation Scholarship, which now offers an increased $41,650 annual stipend, allows students like Chenniappan to focus on his PhD, as well as access to seminars run by CSIRO and additional training through coursework.

He also joined the SQA community, connecting with other quantum PhD students at SQA’s four partner universities – UTS, UNSW, Macquarie and University of Sydney – who take part in joint seminars, events and social functions. Attending the Quantum Australia conference, he was bowled over by how big and vibrant the local quantum sector is.

Paulo da Silva Armi, an SQA Next Generation Program scholar, originally from Brazil, studying at the University of Sydney Business School – the first PhD candidate in the SQA program to come from a non-technical field

“You have the opportunity to interact with various people from different universities and companies and attend all these quantum events and be updated with the developments in the field,” Chenniappan said. “It is very helpful.”

That’s what Paulo da Silva Armi feels too. And he’s the first PhD candidate in the SQA program to come from a non-technical field: the University of Sydney Business School.

After acquiring a bachelor of design from Lutheran University of Brazil, he founded his own innovation design company, creating apps and product design toolkits for big corporations. When it failed after three years – which he attributes to the paucity of the innovation ecosystem in his home country – he moved to Australia and worked as a subcontractor for Google while studying a master of design innovation at the University of Sydney.

The degree ignited da Silva Armi’s thirst for business and design innovation, and his urge to understand how innovation clusters form and succeed. He was exploring a PhD in emerging technology sectors, but worried about how to fund it, when he came across the 2023 offer for the Next Generation Scholarships – and he was sold.

Paulo da Silva Armi, a Next Generation scholar at the University of Sydney Business School

Unlike most PhD programs – in which students develop a research project in consultation with senior academics – the Next Generation program has a list of research ready-made real-world problems that need exploring. Each is developed jointly between CSIRO, a university and an industry partner, and includes tailored coursework, an industry placement and a focus on building career-ready skills, as well as access to SQA’s thriving PhD community at the four partner universities.

In the new set of Next Generation quantum scholarships, open from 10 April to 15 May 2024, industry partners are Diraq, BTQ, Eigensystems and KPMG (see the list of 2024 projects here).

Da Silva Armi’s project, started in 2023, is an area where little business research has been done: how quantum entrepreneurial ecosystems arise, and how they can be orchestrated for growth and prosperity. It is being supervised by the business school’s Deputy Dean of Research, Prof Steven Maguire and Dr Jarryd Daymond.

“I’m looking into how entrepreneurial ecosystems around new technologies are structured and operate,” da Silva Armi said. “And how quantum ecosystems can be strategically orchestrated for optimal performance.

“When we look at entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems, we tend to talk about institutions and value exchange. But ultimately, it’s made up of people who create these opportunities and connections. As someone coming from a human-centred design background, I’m really curious to understand, from a behavioural point of view, how ideas become innovations and create businesses that flourish.”

At the age of 37, da Silva Armi is also changing his career trajectory from industry to academia, and he couldn’t be happier: “I’ve always been passionate about this topic … understanding how people create innovation. In quantum, it’s a new area, there are very few studies. But a business understanding of the whole emerging technology ecosystem is quite new in the literature too. So, it’s a very open field to explore.”

The latest round of the SQA-managed Next Generation Quantum Graduate Scholarships is now open. Find out more here. Or you can look through the research projects on offer under the program; or browse the list of experts from our partner universities to identify potential supervisors to contact direct with proposals across a range of disciplines, such as physics, computer science, engineering, chemistry, mathematics or business.

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