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Dr Howard Wiseman

2003 Malcolm McIntosh Prize

Dr Howard Wiseman

Designing Quantum Technology

Dr Howard Wiseman

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!"

Autobiographical Details

  • 1968  Born in Brisbane
  • 1981-1985  Attended Brisbane Grammar School
  • 1991  Bachelor of Science with Honours (I) (Physics), The University of Queensland
  • 1994  Awarded PhD in physics, The University of Queensland (Quantum Trajectories and Feedback)
  • 1994-1996  Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Physics, Auckland University
  • 1996-1999  Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Physics, The University of Queensland
  • 1999  Research Fellow (QEII), School of Science, Griffith University

Career Highlights

  • 2003  Pawsey Medal for Excellence in Physics Research, Australian Academy of Science
  • 2001  Excellence in Supervision Award, Griffith University Postgraduate Students Association
  • 1996  Bragg Medal for best PhD thesis of 1994/5, Australian Institute of Physics
  • 1994  Postgraduate Student Prize, Australian Optical Society
  • 1991  The University of Queensland Medal

Research Contributions

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:

  • better measurement of optical phase, allowing more efficient communication in generation-after-next optical networks.
  • preparation of light in special states useful for optical quantum computers, which can in principle out-perform any conventional computer.
  • preparation of atoms in special states useful for more sensitive measurements of weak force fields.
  • creating an atom laser: a beam of atoms analogous to a laser beam of light which has just one frequency (colour) of light.

Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2014

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