Accelerated by university research, quantum technology goes far beyond computers.
1. Secret scanners on the seafloor
Researchers at the University of Adelaide are working to create tiny atomic detectors, known as quantum magnetometers. Anchored to the sea floor, these could detect the passage of nearby submarines and alert coastal defences.
“Submarines are giant metal objects, so they’ve got a magnetic field associated with them,” says physicist Prof Andre Luiten. “The great thing about these detectors is they have no power requirements, they’re just atoms in a glass cell. Changes in the strength of the magnetic field at each of numerous quantum detectors on the seabed allows us to determine the speed and direction of the submarine.”
2. Uncrackable hacks
Essential to both military and civilian networks, cryptography relies on scrambling data with complex mathematical formulae that take decades of computer time to crack.
In 2006, ANU physicists were the first to commercialise quantum-enhanced cybersecurity solutions, creating Quintessence Labs. Problem is, quantum cryptography works best over short distances and on secure fibre networks. So ANU physicists at the Department of Quantum Science are developing a quantum-encrypted laser communications system that would allow quantum cryptography via satellite.
These would depend on ‘quantum memories’ — also being developed at ANU — that capture and store information encoded in laser beams without reading or tampering with the data, keeping its quantum cryptography state intact. Snapping up just 5% of the market with quantum-enhanced cybersecurity and network technologies would, by 2040, generate $820 million in annual revenue and 3300 new jobs in Australia, according to the May 2020 Growing Australia’s Quantum Technology Industry roadmap.
3. Precision healthcare
Quantum sensing is already delivering dazzling applications in healthcare and medicine, such as enabling early disease detection and the imaging of human biology with exquisite precision, relying on the quantum effect of fluorescent nano-diamonds. A leading player is the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), a consortium led by the universities of Adelaide, Macquarie, RMIT, Griffith and UNSW. “We ask questions at the nanoscale of biological life because it’s at the nanoscale where we see the inner workings of cells,” says the University of Adelaide’s Prof Mark Hutchinson, director of CNBP. “It is at the nanoscale that we can observe life begin, watch the triggers of pain be activated, and observe disease evolve. And that’s delivering really bold science.”