How quantum physics could ‘revolutionize everything’

  • Written by Phil Mercer
  • BBC News, Sydney

Comment on the photo, Liam Hall’s career has taken him from diesel mechanic to quantum biotechnology

Liam Hall grew up on a farm in Australia, and was a mechanic who “got grease and scratches on his knuckles”, but in recent years his career has taken a more technical turn.

He is now Head of Quantum Biotechnology at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

“I have a bit of a strange background. I always wanted to be a diesel mechanic. Doing that for a while led to wanting to study engineering at university. That introduced me to physics, and then to quantum physics. Rollercoaster rides are a good way to go,” he says. To describe it.

His team is developing diagnostic techniques and trialling tiny sensors made from tiny pieces of diamond about 50 nanometers in size (about 1,000 times finer than a human hair) to test patients’ iron levels.

Current methods monitor a protein known as ferritin, which is the body’s iron storage mechanism. While monitoring ferritin is a good way to measure iron, it would be more accurate to measure the actual iron levels within the protein.

One way to do this is to measure the small magnetic fields generated by iron. But there is one big problem with this approach.

“[The magnetic field] “It is quite small and beyond the measurement of any conventional magnetic measuring devices or microscopes,” explains Dr. Hall.

However, Dr. Hall’s nanoscale quantum sensors can detect and measure those tiny fields.

“The advantage of quantum systems has always been that you can achieve much better sensitivity and easier identification of chemicals at much lower cost,” says Dr. Hall.

Image source, University of Chicago

Comment on the photo, Researchers around the world are working on quantum technologies

Dr. Hall is part of a global drive to advance quantum technologies. Britain, China, the United States and other countries are all trying to exploit the strange properties of quantum mechanics.

“Quantum is one of Australia’s most promising growth opportunities – an opportunity to create new markets and new applications,” CSIRO chief scientist Professor Bronwyn Fox said.

Quantum mechanics emerged in the early twentieth century through studies of the smallest objects in nature. Scientists believe it has the potential to expand our understanding of the universe and solve complex problems at lightning speed.

The range of applications appears broad; From advances in environmental science and decarbonisation, to cybersecurity and new medicines. There could be molecules that “eat carbon” and remove it from the atmosphere, quantum batteries to power cars, airplanes designed to reduce their emissions, and transportation logistics to reduce road congestion.

One ambition of quantum research is to harness the power of subatomic particles to store and process data.

While classical computing generally uses bits (zeros and ones), quantum computers use qubits, which can exist as zeros, ones, or a combination of both.

“By using this principle of quantum superposition with another quantum phenomenon known as entanglement, it enables you to perform calculations that are simply impossible using conventional computers. It opens up the possibility of performing some amazing calculations that could change the world,” explains the professor. Andrew Dzurak from the University of New South Wales.

“Imagine a new branch of the Covid virus or another terrible pandemic. Once you understand the molecular structure of that, which can be done using standard experimental techniques, you can then go to a quantum computer and calculate how to make a molecule that specifically attacks that virus.”

“You solve this problem in one day and not in the six or nine months it took the greatest biological and pharmaceutical minds on the planet to come up with Covid vaccines.”

The power of quantum computing comes from entanglement, a natural phenomenon, according to Dr Mohamed Othman, a team leader at Data 61, a CSIRO company.

It is complex and not easy to understand. Special particles, often photons, or spots of light, can be in two places at the same time, but remain strongly connected even though they are not physically connected.

“I would say that no one in the world fully understands the basics of entanglement,” is Dr. Osman’s honest assessment.

Could there be a quantum internet? Very likely. Data may be transmitted over optical fibers using light particles making it nearly impossible to eavesdrop or hack.

Image source, University of Chicago

Comment on the photo, Professor David Awshalom has built a 200-kilometer-long quantum network at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering in Chicago.

David Awshalom is a professor of molecular engineering and physics at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. He is also the founding director of the university’s Bloch Quantum Tech Hub, which expects to create 30,000 quantum jobs by 2035 and generate $60 billion for the economy. It is a collaboration with experts in Australia, India, Japan, the Netherlands and Israel.

“We have expanded the extent to which we can send secure quantum messages over many miles of underground fiber,” he explains.

“But there are big challenges to overcome. With quantum computing, for example, we are working on quantum coherence, which means keeping the quantum system intact; error correction, which means detecting and correcting errors caused by decoherence; and scalability, “It means being able to increase the number of qubits in a quantum system to solve more complex problems.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Quantum computers promise to solve problems that classical computers are not suited to

We still have years of painstaking research ahead of us, but the future seems to be rushing towards us.

“Quantum AI is one of our team’s key research areas. Machine learning and AI are very computationally intensive, and quantum computing promises computational power,” explains CSIRO’s Dr Osman.

“For example, self-driving cars or drones flying around battlefields with lethal weapons. Can we trust AI? So, what we found is that integrating quantum computing into AI leads to very reliable and trustworthy systems,” he added.

“My dream come true is that when large-scale quantum computers become available and we can run the quantum algorithms I’m developing to find solutions to problems we haven’t found yet, that will revolutionize everything.”

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