Dr Ivan Kassal recipient of the 2017 Tall Poppy Award

18 August 2017

Dr Ivan Kassal

Dr Ivan Kassal

Congratulations to Dr Ivan Kassal, recipient of the 2017 Tall Poppy award. This prestigious award aims to recognise the achievements of Australia’s outstanding young scientific researchers and communicators.

Dr Kassal is one of the most impressive early-career researchers in Australia today. Since completing his PhD at Harvard in 2010, Ivan has been awarded a succession of competitive fellowships totalling over $1.2m, including a University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellowship, a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, and a Westpac Research Fellowship. The latter is perhaps the most competitive grant in Australia, with only four awarded in its inaugural year across all disciplines nationwide.

Ivan pioneered the application of quantum computing to chemistry, demonstrating the first calculation of the hydrogen molecule on a photonic quantum computer. He is also an established leader in the study of quantum effects in light harvesting, from photosynthesis to photovoltaics, developing new theories that will guide the design of future solar-energy technologies.

Ivan is a theorist working at the intersection of chemistry, biophysics, energy science, and materials science. Since completing his PhD, he has pioneered the application of quantum computing to chemistry, showing that quantum computers could solve chemical problems much faster than conventional computers. This work has been described as a “killer app”, because it will likely be the first problem where quantum computers outperform classical ones. Collaborating with experimentalists, he has demonstrated the first calculation of a chemical problem - the hydrogen
molecule -on a photonic quantum computer.

Ivan also studies light harvesting in molecular assemblies - from photosynthetic complexes to organic solar cells - with the ultimate goal of creating low-cost materials to power our future. He has developed new simulation tools that enable him to answer the long-standing question of whether quantum coherence plays a role in biological light harvesting and to identify quantum effects that could be exploited to enhance efficiency. He has also solved one of the fundamental questions about organic solar cells, explaining how the electric charges separate to form a current despite their seemingly overwhelming Coulomb attraction. His goal is to apply the lessons from photosynthesis to artificial devices to engineer the first light-harvesting complexes enhanced using engineered quantum effects.