Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year: Andrea Morello
The University of New South Wales quantum physicist who cuts an unconventional figure.
It was certainly the first time the phrase “I met her on a dance floor at a gay nightclub” had been uttered at the gala event that celebrates the awarding of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. It was to this young woman, who became his dear friend and who recently passed away from cancer that quantum physicist Andrea Morello dedicated his prize.
By any account the University of New South Wales quantum physicist cuts an unconventional figure. With his signature long black ponytail and pencil-thin frame, on first guess you’d pigeonhole Morello as a performer in a rock band. He hails from the tiny Italian alpine village of Morelli, which sports 20 houses, a few dogs and cats, and one horse. But the weirdest thing about Morello is of course his science. Quantum computing is tough to explain. In a nutshell, “we create artificial eyes to see the quantum world”.
Tough it may be, but not everybody has been frightened off. In Australia, as far back as 1998, a visionary group of courageous people founded the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology. “It was a long-term project with no certainty of success,” he says. But the persistence has paid off: “Australia is the quantum capital of the world.”
Morello and his team haven’t just created the first building block of a quantum computer – they have done it in silicon, the computer chip industry’s favourite material. “We can have an embryonic prototype of a working quantum computer in a couple of years,” he says. From there, it’s a simple step to manufacture.
Morello credits the working relationship that he has with UNSW colleague Andrew Dzurak for the milestones they have reached in building a quantum computer. “We got so far because we trust each other blindly,” he says.