2003 Malcolm McIntosh Prize
Dr Howard Wiseman
Designing Quantum Technology
By five years of age, Howard Wiseman's passion for science was already clear. Fascinated with the wonders of the world, he would draw pictures of whales and the solar system to give to his preschool teacher. "I don't think she'd be surprised to hear I am now a scientist," said the 35 year-old prize-winner.
A Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University's School of Science, Dr Wiseman has been instrumental in developing new theories for designing the technology of the future: quantum technology.
Dr Wiseman describes a 'quantum' as "the smallest possible amount of energy, a sort of fundamental graininess in nature". As technology is miniaturised, more and more devices are entering the quantum realm, where this 'graininess' crucially affects their operation.
Dr Wiseman's core work has been studying how the performance of a quantum device can be fine-tuned by continuously monitoring its output and adjusting how it operates. "This idea of feedback-control is not new," he said, "but what changes in the quantum realm is that you can't monitor something without changing it. For example, to see where something is, you have to bounce light off it, and this will give it a little kick. But because you have to use at least one quantum of light energy (called a photon), this kick can't be made arbitrarily small".
Dr Wiseman's key insight was that to make best use of feedback we should first understand the details of how observing a quantum system affects it. "This work touches on some pretty deep questions" said Dr Wiseman. "Even Einstein was baffled by the so called Quantum Measurement Problem."
Born and educated in Brisbane, Dr Wiseman studied medicine for two years before being persuaded by his friends to follow his yen for physics. He completed a doctorate at the University of Queensland and a postdoctoral fellowship at Auckland University before taking up his present position in research and teaching at Griffith University.
He also belongs to the multi-university Centre for Quantum Computer Technology (an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence), collaborating with scientists in Australia and all over the world.
Dr Wiseman, a theoretical physicist, describes his work as "using the imagination to dream up new gadgets, then using mathematics to work out how experimental physicists can build them". He is the first to admit that his ideas could take decades to come to fruition. "You have to be patient in this field," he said. "I think it's great that pure research of this sort is being recognised by this award."
Dr Wiseman says, "I am very fortunate to be able to do what I love". To other young scientists he says, "You need to have that passion, that insatiable curiosity about the world, in order to succeed. If you do, then go for it!"
Dr Wiseman has been instrumental in developing theories for controlling a quantum system by feeding back the results of continuous measurements on it. Applications for Dr Wiseman�s theories include: