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From quantum physicist to quantum CEO

How venture capital helped University of Sydney's Michael Biercuk launch Q-Ctrl into the quantum economy

University of Sydney

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IMAGE: This is an ion trap used to confine individual atoms for experiments in quantum control and quantum computing in Professor Michael Biercuk's quantum control laboratory at the University of Sydney.... view more 

Credit: Professor Michael Biercuk/University of Sydney

Q-Ctrl Pty Ltd, the first spin-off company from the University of Sydney's Quantum Science Group, has been established with the support of Australian and international venture capital.

Professor Michael J. Biercuk is transitioning from quantum physicist to CEO of Q-Ctrl, a start-up that will provide solutions to stabilise quantum technologies. He will jointly hold positions in the company and University.

"We aim to become the trusted provider of quantum control solutions for all quantum technologies," he said.

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence, said: "This is what our University is all about: investing in people and in fundamental research that can become the real-world solutions for tomorrow."

Q-Ctrl has attracted multimillion dollar investments from both Main Sequence Ventures - the manager of CSIRO's innovation fund - and an international venture capital firm.

"Quantum technology, harnessing the strangest effects in quantum physics as resources, will be as transformational in the 21st century as harnessing electricity was in the 19th," Professor Biercuk said. A recent Morgan Stanley report said the quantum economy was set to double to $10 billion in the next decade.

"Quantum computing in particular promises to totally upend the way we process information, rendering previously uncomputable problems manageable - from the chemistry underpinning pharmaceutical discoveries to major challenges in codebreaking and materials science," he said.

Phil Morle, partner at Main Sequence Ventures, said: "Quantum computing is an unstoppable new industry that Main Sequence Ventures wants to foster. Deep tech founder Michael Biercuk is developing solutions that will accelerate the development of this global industry, and we are proud that the company will be Australian."

Despite the exceptional promise of quantum computing, the underlying hardware is highly susceptible to errors. Quantum bits, or qubits - the fundamental carriers of information in quantum computers - degrade rapidly.

Reducing and controlling qubit errors will be essential for quantum devices to scale up to machines that are useful. That's where Q-Ctrl comes in, developing firmware for quantum computing.

Professor Biercuk said: "Quantum control is a powerful tool to improve the performance of quantum devices, preventing errors even before they accumulate.

"The firmware tools Q-Ctrl is building have had their performance validated in the lab and show orders of magnitude improvement in reducing qubit errors without the need for changing the underlying hardware."

The director of the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Technology and Science at the University of Sydney, Professor Susan Pond, welcomed the launch of Q-Ctrl.

"Fundamental research is a powerful driver of economic prosperity. Our research in quantum physics will shape people's lives for many decades," Professor Pond said.

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Video: https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/sender/?s=download&token=bcadf83c-ce79-8a23-d142-f6a0630eb2c2

Photographs: https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/sender/?s=download&token=9502ab3b-3204-5ca4-2249-312e1964ef84

Background: Since 2010 Professor Biercuk's research team, the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney, has focused on developing new techniques to transform systems that obey the rules of quantum physics from novelties into useful technologies. His team, through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, and with support from US funding agencies, has developed a wide variety of techniques in quantum control.

The University of Sydney's Quantum Science Group has strong industry links, including a multimillion dollar partnership with Microsoft to build a topological quantum computer.

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