Over 50 PhD students faced off in a quantum hackathon this February, joining Microsoft, KPMG and Sydney Quantum Academy (SQA) to solve quantum-inspired optimisation challenges. 

Held at the newly opened Quantum Terminal above Sydney’s Central Station, the PhD students came together in a 2-day PhD Experience Program event hosted by SQA.  

Students from SQA partner universities — the University of Sydney, UNSW, UTS and Macquarie University — explored the applications of quantum optimisation strategies for the space industry and other real-world problems. 

A range of experts from across space, quantum and cybersecurity specialisations at Microsoft and KPMG supported the hackathon, acting as facilitators, judges, coaches, presenters, and scribes. The event gave students an opportunity to network with industry players, work in multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex challenges and gain experience in ideation, market research, and pitching. 

Being the first SQA student event held since lockdown, participants enjoyed the new space at the Quantum Terminal and made new connections with other students.  

Working in groups throughout the hackathon, students received masterclasses in design, prototyping, and presenting their solutions throughout both days, culminating in a pitch session to a panel of judges. 

During day one of the hackathon, major tech company Microsoft challenged students to ‘Use Quantum Inspired Optimisation to manage communications with space missions’. 

Microsoft tasked students with understanding the challenges of using the Deep Space Network to communicate with spacecraft and using the supplied Azure environment to determine how to optimise the sending of commands. The ‘Hilbertians’ team were the winning group on day one, with PhD students Gozde Ustun (UNSW), Afrad Basheer (UTS), Arjen Vaartjes (UNSW), Abhikbrata Sarkar (UNSW), submitting the best solution in the fastest time. 

KPMG’s challenge on day 2 involved Using Quantum Computing and Optimisation to solve real-world problems. Students explored a range of optimisation challenges across diverse fields such as climate change, finance, and space exploration. 

“One of the things I love about my work is seeing people grow through playing with problems,” said Nyk Loates, Director in KPMG's Futures team. “All teams came up with amazing solutions to a variety of real-world problems and all teams nailed the pitch - making hard for the judges to pick an ultimate winner.”  

‘The QT Pies’ won out the KPMG challenge, with a pitch on artificial photosynthesis using quantum chemistry simulations from PhD students Paul Steinacker (UNSW), Darcy Morgan (UTS), Anirban Dey (Macquarie University), Ingvild Hansen (UNSW), Alexander Hahn (Macquarie University), Isaac Vorreiter (UNSW). 

Mentoring and coaching opportunities with KPMG and Microsoft experts were offered to hackathon prize winners, giving PhD students access to a few of the major technology companies investing in quantum innovation. 

Find out more about the SQA PhD Experience Program, or apply for SQA 2022 PhD Scholarships (Closing 4 May).