Faculty awards prestigious science prize to Andrea Morello

25 March 2014

The Faculty of Science has awarded the 2013 David Syme Research Prize to Associate Professor Andrea Morello, for his pioneering work on silicon-based quantum computers.

The prestigious annual prize for mid-career researchers rewards the best original research work in biology, chemistry, geology or physics produced in Australia during the preceding two years.

Assoc Prof Morello and his team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, also affiliated with the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, were the first in the world to demonstrate the ability to encode quantum information on a single atom, integrated within a silicon chip. The work was done in close collaboration with the groups of Professor Andrew Dzurak at UNSW, and Professor David Jamieson at the University of Melbourne's School of Phsyics (a department within the Faculty of Science).

The heart of every computer and every mobile phone is a chip that contains over a billion tiny transistors made of silicon. The extraordinary ability of the electronic industry to produce such devices in large amounts and at very low cost underpins the whole modern information technology.

Morello and his team have given the industry-standard silicon technology a revolutionary twist, by using it to write and read what’s known as a “quantum bit”, or qubit. This is the fundamental unit of binary information, like the classical “0” and “1”, except that the quantum properties at atomic-size systems allow the qubit to be in the “0” and “1” state at the same time. For this purpose, Morello used a single atom of phosphorus integrated within a specially built silicon transistor.

Harnessing this peculiar property of quantum bits will allow the creation of machines that can tackle computational problems which are completely intractable even by the most powerful supercomputers. The analysis and prediction of molecular structures (essential for the development of new medicines), the optimization of transport and traffic, the search through large databases, and several other “hard problems” in computational science might one day be revolutionized by Morello’s breakthrough in controlling the quantum state of single atoms in silicon.

Chair of the selection committee, Professor Janet Hergt, Deputy Dean and Associate Dean of Research and Industry in the Faculty of Science, said: "The field was very strong again this year, but the 'breakthrough' element of Associate Professor Morello’s application, together with its phenomenal potential to impact on the world’s future computational capabilities, made our decision a great deal easier."

The David Syme Research Prize was first awarded in 1906 following a gift to the University of Melbourne by Mr David Syme, publisher of The Age, to establish the annual award.

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