Emelia Hosking and Jett Pearse at SQA’s Quantum Tech Camp in Dubbo [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

IN A BOOTCAMP held in Dubbo, the last big town before hitting the Outback, high school students got to ask some unusual questions: how do you manipulate data at the atomic level? Can particles really be in two places at once? And what does a quantum computer even look like?

Led by prominent researchers from around the country, the Quantum Tech Camp – the third for high schoolers staged by Sydney Quantum Academy, but the first in regional Australia – saw students dive deep into the spooky quantum world. It was offered in partnership with the NSW Department of Education’s Regional Industry Education Partnerships (RIEP) program.

Students learned about the massive potential of quantum technologies and the career pathways available in the field, which CSIRO estimates will likely create an Australian industry worth $6 billion and 19,400 jobs by 2045.

“I wasn’t very aware of the quantum world at all before this, and I didn’t realise that quantum computers existed,” said Emelia Hosking, 16, a student at the Central West Leadership Academy, a non-profit, non-denominational selective school in Dubbo.

“But it’s been really fun learning about quantum mechanics. I liked learning about superposition and interference, and how that can help you to figure out really long and complicated problems.”

Jett Pearse, 15, also a student at the school who took part in the camp, was intrigued by the seemingly illogical behaviour of particles at the sub-atomic level. “They’re very contrary to what you see around you in the world,” he said. “But I really enjoyed how you can use those aspects to solve a lot of problems in ways that are really, really unique.”

The camp, held 21-23 May 2024, was a mixture of in-person classes by physicists and online presentations by prominent researchers working at the frontiers of quantum science. In total, 52 students took part: 21 in person in Dubbo and another 26 joining online from other locations around New South Wales, plus three from Queensland and two from Tasmania, with a 60% of online students funded by scholarships from IBM.

Qubit by Qubit educators Tristin Rice (left);; and Abhik Sarkar (centre), with SQA’s Prof Peter Turner (right), leading classes at Dubbo's Central West Leadership Academy [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

In Dubbo, classes were led by Tristin Rice, a Stanford University physics graduate, and Abhik Sarkar, a PhD student at UNSW researching quantum computing theory. In person presentations were also given by Prof Peter Turner, CEO of Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA), and Astri Cornish, Quantum Workforce and Education lead at IBM in Australia.

University of Western Australia’s Prof Jingbo Wang (online) leading a session at SQA’s Quantum Tech Camp [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

“Quantum computers are not science fiction – they are here, and they are real,” Prof Jingbo Wang, director of the centre for Quantum Information, Simulation and Algorithms at the University of Western Australia, told students.

"A full-scale quantum computer will transform how we manage resources, design new drugs or new materials, and probably a million other things we have not even dreamed of yet. A global community of quantum researchers is making solid progress towards this goal in leaps and bounds every day.”

She was one of the researchers who presented virtual lectures, along with Dr Xanthe Croot, Chief Investigator of the Quantum Superconducting Circuits Lab at the University of Sydney; A/Prof Chris Ferrie of the Centre for Quantum Software and Information at UTS; Dr Linda Beaumont, Deputy Dean of Faculty of Science and Engineering of Macquarie University; and Dr Luke Mathieson, Deputy Head the School of Computer Science at University of Technology Sydney.

Lessons focussed on foundational knowledge and concepts in quantum mechanics, using the strange quirks of the quantum world for computation, how quantum algorithms work, as well as Python programming skills so students could run demonstrations of quantum computing with online simulators.

“I really enjoyed concepts like Schrodinger’s cat – that it can be both dead and alive at the same time, and then you can’t really figure out what it is until you observe, or measure it,” said Riyon Dharmwardane, 15, another of the Dubbo students. “And I liked the coding part … that was the most interesting for me.”

One of the teaching assistants for the online courses was Freesia Gaul, who herself attended SQA’s  2023 quantum camp. She’s now in her first year of a Bachelor of Quantum Engineering course at UNSW.

“As a student who went to a regional school, it was such a rare experience to be able to share my passions and learn from leading researchers in the field,” she recalled. “The experience of meeting researchers, hearing their stories, and talking with them like normal people really inspires you to go: ‘Yeah, I could do this!’”

Students at the camp: Lucas Letfallah and Fiona Thambi; Riyon Dharmwardane (centre); and Alana Sherring with Jasmine Davies [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

The camp was delivered by SQA in partnership with Qubit by Qubit, a U.S. non-profit specialising in online teaching of quantum skills who sent New York-based Tristin Rice to Australia especially for the camp. Additional online activities were delivered by Quantum Girls, a Perth-based national project which creates education programs for 11-15-year-old girls and helps train teachers in quantum science.

Since it was founded in 2019, SQA – a joint-venture between University of Sydney, UNSW, Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney which is supported by the New South Wales Government – has been working to grow the quantum ecosystem in Australia and make quantum education and training accessible to all.

“Quantum technologies are at the intersection of physics, computer science, and engineering – so they are a great way to explore a range of STEM topics,” said SQA’s Prof Peter Turner. “And they’re going to be vital skills, since quantum technologies have potential applications in nearly every industry.”

Of the students attending online, 19 had their tuition funded by scholarships from IBM.

Students at Dubbo's Central West Leadership Academy, along with educators, who took part in SQA’s Quantum Tech Camp [SQA/Wilson da Silva]

“As quantum computing continues to improve at a rapid pace, so too must today’s students’ interest and skills in the technology,” said IBM’s Astri Cornish. “This is why IBM is proud to support high school student participation in the Sydney Quantum Academy camp — inspiring them with the possibilities of quantum and preparing them to be part of the growing quantum ecosystem.”

The NSW Department of Education – which provided a grant that made the camp possible – was delighted with the camp. “It gives students living in regional areas an exciting opportunity to be inspired by the exciting world of quantum computing,” said Jacqui Skelton, Senior Project Officer, RIEP at the NSW Department of Education. “We’re keen to provide regional students with opportunities to explore both traditional and emerging career pathways.”

Andrew Diessel, Central West Leadership Academy’s Academic Coordinator, who attended the camp, saw real value for the students. “Being able to engage with in-person presenters and work on engaging, hands-on activities are an excellent way to raise awareness of quantum computing principles, career opportunities and potential areas of further study.”

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