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World-changing innovators' ideas take off in first Ideas that Travel

17 February 2016
Quantum engineering has already had major impacts and is set to transform 21st century innovation.

Four innovators will lead the first Ideas that Travel event in partnership with TEDxSydney aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney to San Francisco – and two of those are associated with the University of Sydney – including quantum physicist Associate Professor Michael Biercuk.

We take inspiration from the development of modern aviation where learning to exert control over a technology is how the Wright brothers... overcame the biggest hurdles in the field.
Assoc Prof Biercuk's "Ideas that Travel".

Associate Professor Michael Biercuk with Qantas's Olivia Wirth.

Four innovators will lead the first Ideas that Travel event in partnership with TEDxSydney aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney to San Francisco – and two of those are associated with the University of Sydney – including quantum physicist Associate Professor Michael Biercuk.

Associate Professor Biercuk – a 2015 Eureka Prize winner for Outstanding Early Career Researcher – along with Jo Burston, who sits on the advisory board for the University’s Business School and Innovation and Entrepreneur Advisory Group, will address entrepreneurs and technologists en route to silicon valley this afternoon as part of a series that will also be screened during TEDxSydney in May.

Harvard-trained Associate Professor Biercuk – a Chief Investigator at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS) – moved to Australia in 2010 to head a group of quantum physicists at the University of Sydney undertaking research with the potential to transform society fundamentally.

“The potential for quantum tech to change the world is real and now within reach,” he will say in a speech aboard Qantas’s premiere tech talk in the sky.

The earliest advances in harnessing the fundamental rules of nature - quantum physics - have already had major impacts, he will demonstrate, but these are only the first steps in the development of a powerful new generation of quantum technologies.

“We are laying the groundwork for a new blossoming of innovation based on advanced hardware, harnessing quantum physics. 

“Today, this… requires incredible infrastructure – like the new Sydney Nanoscience Hub at the University of Sydney, which provides some of the most precise laboratory environments on earth,” Associate Professor Biercuk will say. 

“In the innovation ecosystem, by and large only Universities are making this kind of capital-intensive, long-term investment in research infrastructure.

“At the University of Sydney, we are not only working to learn how to harness quantum physics, we are also working to build the ecosystem of future innovators and entrepreneurs seeking to turn our discoveries into next generation startups and major commercial products.” 

Associate Professor Biercuk’s team is focused on capturing individual atoms and using them to learn how we can coax quantum systems into performing useful tasks.  For instance, they are working to merge basic science with concepts from engineering, in an effort to overcome the challenging obstacles currently standing between us and a quantum future.

“One critical problem we can study is the way electrons in solid materials can exhibit extremely unusual behavior, such as the onset of superconductivity, in which electricity flows without resistance,” his speech reads. 

“Despite decades of research we still don’t understand how one class of superconductors, High-Temperature superconductors, work – because the underlying phenomenology comes from quantum physics, which is notoriously difficult to model on a conventional computer. 

“By building a quantum scale model that mimics the material of interest in a quantum simulator, we’re hoping to crack this problem, with truly profound consequences.

“Imagine the ability to pipe electricity anywhere, over any distance, with negligible loss.  What would the world look like?  The information revolution came in large part because of our ability to send data over huge distances in fiber optics with nearly no loss…. could we imagine something similar with lossless energy distribution?”

Asociated Professor Biercuk will point out that quantum technology will be to 21st century innovation what microprocessors and computers were to the previous century. 

The biggest leaps, however, may well be beyond our imagination: “History has taught us that the biggest impacts of new technologies are often those least anticipated.”

Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Science, Veterinary Science, Agriculture)
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