Since the launch of the University of Sydney’s global partnership with Microsoft in 2017, Professor David Reilly and his team have been building the capacity to pursue what could be the most difficult technological challenge of the 21st century: advancing the capabilities of computers to solve the problems of the future.
The partnership establishes ongoing investment in quantum computing capabilities, creating an unrivalled setting and foundation for quantum research in Australia.
The benefits of partnering with a tech heavyweight such as Microsoft include infrastructure typically out of reach for a university, quick prototype testing and access to resources and expertise across a complex and sizeable network of teams, spanning the world.
Professor David Reilly holds a joint position with Microsoft Corporation and the University of Sydney, where he is both a Principal Researcher and the Scientific Director of Microsoft Quantum Lab Sydney.
“It’s a quest outside the usual bounds of academic life,” says Professor Reilly. “It’s a global challenge and one that will take the capacity, abilities and resources of one of the biggest tech firms in the world.”
Microsoft has invested in a select number of universities around the world, leveraging the best minds in physics, engineering, computer science and mathematics to build dynamic and research-rich ecosystems within university environments.
There are only five labs of this kind in the world and the University of Sydney houses one of them, enabling research problems and challenges to be tackled in ways that combine the creative and inventive aspects of academia, with the capability of industry to transition research outcomes into the real world. “It’s a completely new research paradigm,” Professor Reilly says.
“Creating a quantum computer is often compared to the feat of the first moon landing. Imagine trying to make it to the moon without resources and collaboration at scale. Research of this kind is only possible through a global partnership that combines academic expertise with industry know-how.”
The combination of the University of Sydney’s world-class nanoscience hub and Professor Reilly’s expertise in the interface between classical and quantum computers is a formidable one.
David Pritchard, Managing Director of Technology Partnerships, based at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington headquarters, sees the partnership as vital for the technology that will be imperative in the not too distant future. “Microsoft works everywhere on the planet. We choose to build capacity and create partnerships that enable the best research outcomes. Rather than taking resources and talent out of environments, our model is to recognise, build out and augment existing strengths.”
Microsoft’s investment in the University of Sydney is in infrastructure, people and intellectual assets. Microsoft staff work side by side in the lab exchanging ideas with 20 academics from various disciplines – every single day. The combined size of this rich quantum research ecosystem is expected to grow tremendously over the next five years.
“It’s fantastic that at the University of Sydney – and in Sydney more broadly – we have perhaps the highest concentration of quantum technology research groups in the world,” Professor Reilly says.
The outcome of the project goes beyond science and technology, to providing unique training and education opportunities for university students, PhD researchers and academic experts in their field within Australia. Exposure to the collaborative research and technology builds Australia’s quantum workforce of tomorrow.
The challenge of developing a quantum computer is an ambitious one, with the combined Microsoft and University of Sydney team taking an equally ambitious approach to tackling it. “Our focus is to take our research to the world stage as well as leverage global breakthroughs here in Sydney,” says Professor Reilly.
“We’re interested in working on research that’s first in the world and has global and local impact.”