Entry for:2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
The discovery of quantum physics in the 20th century led to the development of many products that we now use on a daily basis, including mobile phones, computers and GPS technology. Now with greater understanding of the unique properties of quantum physics researchers, including myself, working in the burgeoning field of “quantum technology” are developing greater technological advancements for the future. I previously worked on a project building a portable atomic clock which would allow us to “see” structures beneath the Earth’s surface, for example detecting pipelines, mineral deposits and cave systems. My current project at Griffith University is focused on demonstrating a new type of “quantum battery” for clean energy storage. This device is based around a quantum engine that converts heat into useful work with 100% efficiency and zero emissions. This novel idea could be the foundation for providing portable clean energy storage for the people of Queensland.
Queensland is establishing itself as a centre for development of quantum technologies and is attracting scientists, including myself, from across the globe. I moved to Queensland from the UK 11 months ago to take up my current position at Griffith University, our laboratory team works on developing quantum energy solutions and techniques for quantum encryption. My current research project is to demonstrate a proof-of-concept quantum engine that converts thermal energy into useable work with 100% efficiency and zero emissions, which could lead to a completely new type of “quantum battery” for clean energy storage. This research has attracted funding from a large US technology company, in addition to support from the Australian government. This collaborative funding demonstrates the international interest in Queensland's growing expertise in quantum technology.
The first quantum revolution followed the discovery of quantum mechanics in the 20th century. This new area of physics changed our understanding of the universe and led to the development of many new technologies we use every day. Understanding the flow of electrons in semiconductor materials led to the development of integrated circuits that are key components of personal computers, mobile phones, and an array of smart devices in our homes. The 1960's saw the birth of "atomic time" with the development of atomic clocks, the most accurate time pieces in the universe, which are essential for the satellite navigation networks we rely on daily with our smart phones and GPS devices.
The 21st century is home to the second quantum revolution, where unique collective quantum properties are being used to develop powerful new technologies capable of achieving things not currently possible with every-day "classical" laws of the universe. As researchers in the field of quantum technology, we focus our efforts on combining academic research with global industry to foster the development of this new technology.
The Australian government is keen to grow Australia as a strong player in the discovery and development of these new technologies and is facilitating world-leading research at universities within Queensland and across the country. Spin-out companies from this research are creating jobs in this sector, and south east Queensland is establishing itself as one of the world leaders in this growing industry, bringing funding, jobs and development to this area.
Australia has established a Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems which combines quantum technology research efforts from universities across Australia, with one of the main hubs at the University of Queensland. The early successes of this Centre of Excellence have allowed them to offer two three-year fellowships for early to mid-career researchers to attract existing talent to Queensland and wider Australia. I am delighted to have been awarded one of these fellowships and have chosen to use it to join the research group at the University of Queensland working on quantum-enhanced sensors. I plan to use this opportunity to further-establish my research here and contribute to Queensland's quantum technology development for many years to come.
As a high school student with an interest in science I always valued the opportunity to visit university research groups and learn about their work. Since becoming a scientist myself I have always taken the time and made the effort to pass on this opportunity to future generations. During my PhD at a UK National Laboratory I volunteered at the annual open days where we had around 2,000 members of the public visit our labs to learn about the science we do and its application within society. I also made independent arrangements to visit a local school and talk to their year 12 students about how atomic clocks work and their interesting applications.
I was a postdoctoral researcher in Durham, north-eastern England for approximately 6 years, and I am proud to say my group were very supportive of those who wished to volunteer their time to engagement activities. I volunteered at the annual Celebrate Science event during the school holidays for age 7 to 11 year old's to come and try out small science experiments. The popularity of this event grew year on year with up to 6,000 members of the public attending over the three-day event. I also helped set up and run activities at the Durham University Schools' Science Festival where high school students come to the university for the day to try out a series of hands-on science experiments.
I volunteered at a number of events with The Ogden Trust, a UK charity that aims to increase the uptake of physics at high school and beyond, particularly for those from under-represented demographics. The most notable occasions were as a scientific mentor at two day-long outreach events we ran specifically for teenage girls to encourage them to consider physics or science as a career path. In addition to the standard scientific activities we usually run for this age group, we also ran a workshop on unconscious bias, to educate the girls on how our subconscious affects the way we treat people, how we are treated by others and the influence of this on their career choices. The students really enjoyed this activity and said it had a large impact on their outlook and career aspirations. Since moving to Queensland 11 months ago I have used this experience to develop an outreach activity specifically focusing on unconscious bias and have had the pleasure to be able to deliver this at the two Growing Tall Poppies workshops run at Griffith University. At each event I presented two sessions on "Careers in Physics" and "Unconscious Bias". I hope that I am helping to break down the stereotypes of physics being “too hard” and “only for boys”, and educating students on the opportunities available from studying physics.
I have given several presentations to scientific audiences on my research and more recently I have given a couple of talks on unconscious bias to colleagues at Durham University and Griffith University.