UNSW will launch a world-first undergraduate degree in quantum engineering

Photo: UNSW
  • The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is offering a world first undergraduate degree in quantum engineering.
  • Students in the Bachelor of Quantum Engineering (Honours) will learn about advanced electronics and telecommunication engineering, specialising in ways to design and control quantum systems.
  • UNSW Scientia Professor Andrea Morello told Business Insider Australia why the degree would be beneficial for Australia’s manufacturing sector.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is offering a world-first undergraduate degree in quantum engineering.

Students in the Bachelor of Quantum Engineering (Honours) will learn about advanced electronics and telecommunication engineering, specialising in ways to design and control quantum systems. The degree will also cover microwave engineering, nanoelectronics and quantum technologies for advanced sensors, secure communications and computing.

UNSW Scientia Professor Andrea Morello told Business Insider Australia the quickest way to sum up quantum engineering is to think of it as “electronics engineering for the 21st century”.

“For the longest time you could get a degree in electrical or electronics engineering essentially without knowing all that much about the intimate, profound ways in which those electronic devices actually work,” he said.

Morello used the example of a mobile phone. “You probably know there’s hundreds of millions or even billions of transistors in there and those transistors are tiny devices made in silicon,” he said. “They act like little switches [and] they encode digital information – most people know this.

“But to really understand how they work at an intimate level, you need to understand quantum mechanics.”

Scientia Professor Andrea Morello. Image: UNSW

He added that over the last 10 to 20 years up to now, the level of understanding has changed. “The level of microscopic control we have over electronic devices is so advanced and so extreme that on one hand, you really can no longer be an electronics engineer without understanding quantum behaviour of electrons,” he said.

And once we understand this behaviour, it opens a world of possibility for new technologies. These technologies, Morello said, could be “evolutionary” or “revolutionary”. Evolutionary technologies include QLED TVs – standing for quantum dot light emitting diode TVs – which provide brighter and more vivid images. Revolutionary technologies, on the other hand, include quantum computers. Quantum computing and technology have applications across medicine, financial services, defence and natural resources.

Morello also explained why the university launched the new quantum engineering degree.

“The reason we created this Bachelor of Quantum Engineering is because really, if you want to be an electronics engineer in the 21st century, from now on there is almost no reason why you wouldn’t want to be prepared for doing everything – both the classical stuff that’s been around for a long time and will continue to be around, and also the new and revolutionary stuff.”

A $4 billion industry

According to the CSIRO, Australia’s quantum technology industry could generate more than $4 billion in revenue by 2040 and bring 16,000 new jobs. The research was revealed in a webinar earlier this year.

“There were some venture capitalists who are investing in this field and they were of the opinion [that] these numbers are extremely conservative,” Morello said.

CSIRO’s Chief Scientist Cathy Foley said in a statement that quantum technology will create new markets, applications and jobs in Australia.

“Australian science has been breaking new ground in quantum technologies for almost three decades,” she said. “To maintain this position of leadership and ensure we capture our share of this high tech, high value opportunity, it’s crucial that education providers expand their quantum offerings.

“We need to build a quantum technology workforce in Australia that can translate our world-leading research into solutions to real-world challenges.”

Generating a supply of workers in this industry

The idea for the new UNSW degree came together after more than a decade.

Morello joined the university 14 years ago in a research-only position before he started teaching. He wanted to start a post-graduate course in quantum electronics devices while one of his colleagues wanted to start a post-graduate course in quantum communications. These courses were developed and became successful.

The university had also continued to attract talent from all over the world, culminating in a group of senior and junior researchers and lecturers who have the expertise to create more courses in the quantum field. And that led to the creation of the new degree.

The new degree wants to create a skilled workforce that can help develop the quantum industry in Australia – essentially generating the supply needed to bolster the industry.

Morello added that while Australia doesn’t historically have a huge manufacturing base, the government has been aware of how quantum technologies could be a new industry.

“Because Australia has such a high concentration of know-how in the sector – and we are trying to do our part to further contribute to this – it means that there’s really a golden opportunity to establish a manufacturing sector in Australia given that we will have the workforce actually trained to develop this.”

And this industry already has a lot of interest.

“The private sector is very interested in capitalising on this and the government is also acutely alert that this is a golden opportunity,” Morello said.

The first intake of students will begin in Term 3, 2020.

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