Generous gift supports the promise of quantum computing

Professor Michael Biercuk left with Hugh and Anne Harley

Professor Michael Biercuk with Hugh and Anne Harley.

A belief in the need for business to reach out to the sciences is only one of the motives for Anne and Hugh Harley to donate half a million dollars to the University of Sydney’s Quantum Control Laboratory.

The gift also expresses their support for the transformative possibilities of quantum science and is a chance to give back to an institution that four generations of their family have attended.

“People give to people,” is how Hugh Harley describes the outcome of meeting Professor Michael Biercuk, the director of the University’s Quantum Control Laboratory and a chief investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems.

But it was also the opportunity to support one of the most important areas of 21st century science that inspired the Harleys’ donation.

Hugh Harley, financial services leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, knew that quantum information science could ensure an enormous leap in encryption technology or provide incredibly powerful computers, but was more impressed to learn about its potential to revolutionise the generation and distribution of energy.

Anne Harley, a former lawyer and now a farmer, says the experience of using science to improve soil and water quality has brought home to her the practical importance of science.

“We have been thinking about giving to the University for some time and science was always where our interest lay for this. We were pleasantly surprised by the progress Mike’s lab has made in this challenging area and excited by its possible range of game-changing applications,” Anne Harley said.

Professor Biercuk commented, “Hugh and Anne’s generous support will accelerate our lab’s efforts to bring about a new technological future enabled by the laws of quantum physics. We are developing a new class of specialised computers, called quantum simulators, that exploit these strange laws. They work in a manner similar to a model aircraft in a wind tunnel – we’re building quantum scale models in order to simulate much more complex systems.”

“We hope to help unlock some extraordinarily important but elusive questions about the behaviour of exotic materials known as high-temperature superconductors which may transform the production and distribution of energy.”

The couple believe that philanthropy has a crucial role to play in supporting the University in an increasingly competitive financial environment, requiring it to seek a diversity of income streams.

“In a globalised world Australia will rise and fall by the quality of its private and public institutions and support for universities is critical for that success.”

Hugh Harley sees a role for business in that relationship: “If Australia is to remain competitive it needs to be at the forefront of scientific research and commercialisation so I’m especially keen to break down barriers between the business and science communities.”

“It is crucial for business and science to engage each other; it will be a major driver of our long-term economic performance.”

The couple describe being delighted to be giving back to an institution that gave them both a wonderful education – and the chance to meet.

“My grandmother studied English at the University, my father studied medicine and our sons are now pursuing studies in science and the arts. This is a chance to look back and repay what the University has given us but also to contribute to this groundbreaking area of quantum science,” said Hugh Harley.