Claire Ripley, Dr Si-Hui Tan, Dr Kerrie Jackson and Dr Cathy Foley: 40% of panellists at Quantum Australia 2024 were women, as were half of the presenters [Grant Turner/SQA]

IF THERE WAS ANY doubt that women are central players in the quantum revolution, the recent Quantum Australia 2024 conference dispelled that notion.

There were engrossing presentations from some of the world’s leading female quantum pioneers from Australia and overseas, with more than 40% of panellists being women or non-binary, as were half of the presenters. In addition, almost a third of conference delegates were women.

Expertise on show included technical presentations from new approaches to help simplify the task of programming quantum processors by Dr Si-Hui Tan of Singapore’s Horizon Quantum Computing; to a dizzying overview of the pathways being taken to make scalable, fault-tolerant quantum systems emerge by Dr Stephanie Simmons of Canada’s Photonic Inc.

“Coming up with new quantum algorithms is difficult,” Tan, Chief Science Officer of Horizon, told delegates. “Better ways of programming quantum computers are needed. At Horizon, we are building tools to code, compile and deploy from these higher levels of abstraction, and move towards a fully automated synthesis of quantum algorithms.”

Simmons, co-chair of the advisory board to Canada’s National Quantum Strategy and a former a research fellow at UNSW, is a Founder & Chief Quantum Officer at Photonic, which is building a scalable, fault-tolerant quantum computing and networking platform based on photonically linked silicon spin qubits.

Dr Si-Hui Tan of Singapore’s Horizon Quantum Computing, and Dr Stephanie Simmons of Canada’s Photonic Inc [Grant Turner/SQA]

“The quantity and quality of quantum inputs and outputs is crucial, and connectivity will be the key to fault-tolerance as it unlocks highly efficient quantum LDPC error correcting codes,” she told delegates. She showed how Photonics’ quantum computing and networking platform addresses these challenges to offer a scalable high-performing quantum system based upon the newly rediscovered ‘silicon colour centre’ technique.

“It has zero-phonon optical transitions in the telecommunications bands, long-lived spins in their ground states, and can be integrated into silicon photonics chips at scale.”

Prof Emily Hilder, Head of the new $3.4 billion Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) at Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group, told delegates that 71 organisations in industry and universities had made 179 submissions for funding for new defence-focused research, which she described as an “overwhelming response”.

Prof Emily Hilder, Head of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator and Prof Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop of the University of Queensland [Grant Turner/SQA]

More than two-thirds were for quantum technologies, and evenly split between industry and universities. She declared the new Emerging and Disruptive Technologies fund – which backs deep and long-term research partnerships with universities and industry – a resounding success.

“We had an incredible response from industry, as well as the response that we would have expected from universities,” Hilder said. “It was really exciting to see the mix where we’re getting responses from small businesses, large businesses, start-ups – a lot of them connected to that really broad research and development base we have in Australia.”

Prof Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop of the University of Queensland and Director of the Translational Program at the Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems, delved deep into the challenges of translating new technologies across ‘the valley of death’ before they become commercial reality.

“We know that commercialisation turns technology back into money. The start and end are funded, but there exists this gap in the middle. Therefore, the translation part is critical – this is often the barrier to more quantum technology and businesses in Australia,” she said, and then outlined programs designed to help this transition. “Science turns money into ideas, but it is translation that will turn ideas into technologies.”

One of the highlights was the opening panel on Australia’s place in the global quantum economy, chaired by Prof Michelle Simmons, CEO of Silicon Quantum Computing and 2023 winner of Australia’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, which also featured Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley.

Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley speaking at the opening panel on Australia’s place in the global quantum economy, chaired by Prof Michelle Simmons [Grant Turner/SQA]

A panel chaired by Prof Elanor Huntington, Executive Director of Digital and National Facilities and Collections at CSIRO – and featuring Dr Jane Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Australian National Fabrication Facility, and Dr Nadia Court (Director of the Semiconductor Sector Service Bureau) – tackled enabling quantum infrastructure for industry success and market development.

Prof Jingbo Wang, Director of the Quantum Information, Simulation and Algorithms research hub at the University of Western Australia in Perth, spoke on a panel on boosting quantum literacy in business and society; while Dr Kerrie Jackson, Head of Business Development at Canberra’s Nomad Atomics shared her knowledge on a panel on investing for quantum commercialisation.

A panel on the role of industry standards in developing responsible quantum innovation heard from Barbara Goldstein, Associate Director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology; Claire Ripley, Senior Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Standards Australia; and A/Prof Mary Jacqueline Romero from the University of Queensland.

A panel on the role of industry standards in developing responsible quantum innovation heard from Barbara Goldstein, Mark Bowden, Claire Ripley, and A/Prof Mary Jacqueline Romero [Grant Turner/SQA]

And a panel on quantum blockchain and security was chaired by Quantum Physicist at Bleximo and podcaster Anastasia Marchenkova, which featured Dr Sushmita Ruj, Engineering Lead at UNSW Institute for Cybersecurity and a Senior Lecturer at UNSW.

Not to be outdone, the conference’s Careers Fair – attended by almost 250 aspiring students and early career researchers interested in working in the quantum sector – had a panel on career pathways that included insights from Dr Giuseppina Dall’Armi-Stoks, Research Leader Electro Optics Sensing and Electromagnetic Warfare at Defence Science and Technology Group; and Amanda Seedhouse, a theatrical physicist at quantum computing start-up Diraq.

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