Go to top of page

Excellence in research & innovation

The National Institutes Grant enables ANU to maintain and enhance distinctive concentrations of excellence in research and education, particularly in areas of national importance to Australia.

World’s first room-temperature quantum computer

Scientists at ANU have invented ground-breaking technology that enables quantum computers to operate at room temperature. Quantum computers promise a new era in ultra-secure networks, artificial intelligence and therapeutic drugs, as well as solving certain problems much faster than today’s computers. But one of the hurdles to becoming an everyday reality is their supercooling requirement.

ANU start-up Quantum Brilliance is overcoming this hurdle by using synthetic diamonds to develop quantum microprocessors. This lunchbox-sized invention does not need extreme sub-zero temperatures to work and is on the cusp of being the most powerful computer ever created.

Quantum Brilliance and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth are collaborating with other Australian industry leaders and researchers to develop cutting-edge quantum applications in machine learning, logistics, defence and aerospace. This breakthrough takes Quantum Brilliance a step closer to its aim of commercialising the next-generation device that will transform industries in Australia and around the world.

The company recently hit another major milestone, raising more than $13.7 million in seed funding to develop its quantum accelerators, also driven by synthetic diamonds.

Alien radioactive element prompts creation rethink

The first ever discovery of extra-terrestrial radioactive isotopes on Earth has scientists rethinking the origins of the elements on our planet. The traces of plutonium-244 and radioactive iron-60, found in ocean crust, are evidence of violent cosmic events millions of years ago.

Star explosions, or supernovae, create many heavy elements including those vital for human life, such as iron. To form even heavier elements like plutonium, it was thought more violent events may be needed, such as two neutron stars merging. However, a study led by ANU Professor Anton Wallner suggests a more complex picture.

Any plutonium-244 and iron-60 present when Earth formed four billion years ago has long since decayed, so current traces must have originated from recent cosmic events in space. Dating of the sample confirmed two or more supernova explosions occurred near Earth. Professor Wallner said this could be the first evidence that supernovae do indeed produce plutonium-244, or the isotopes may have been left over from a much older, even more spectacular event like a neutron star detonation and then pushed across the solar system when the supernova went off.

Unlocking Earth’s inner secrets

A mission to retrieve seismometers from the rugged ocean floor near Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean will help unlock the secrets of the Earth’s inner layers. The devices formed a giant telescope pointing to the Earth’s centre. They recorded the motion of the ground continuously, from distant earthquakes, storms, whales and other phenomena because of the ocean-atmosphere-solid earth system interaction, to earthquakes in the region itself. The research is an international collaboration led by ANU.

“It’s in an area where the Australian plate meets the Pacific plate, but it’s not known as an active subduction zone, so these earthquakes are still a mystery to us,” said chief scientist ANU Professor Hrvoje Tkalčić.

The mission retrieved 15 of the 27 devices. The data collected will provide vital information about some of the Earth’s most violent underwater earthquakes. It could also help scientists understand future earthquakes and tsunamis that might affect coastal populations in Australia and New Zealand.

“Scientifically, the most exciting pay-off of this project may be that it could help us add missing pieces to one of the biggest puzzles in plate tectonics – how subduction begins,” said Professor Tkalčić.

Astrophysicists solve ‘empty sky’ gamma-ray puzzle

Researchers from ANU have confirmed that star-forming galaxies are responsible for creating gamma-rays that until now had no known origin. Gamma-rays are one of the most energetic forms of light in the Universe that appear in patches of seemingly ‘empty sky’.

The research outlines how researchers were able to pinpoint what created these mysterious gamma-rays after obtaining a better understanding of how cosmic rays – particles that travel at speeds very close to the speed of light – move through the gas between stars. Cosmic rays are important because they create large amounts of gamma-ray emissions in star-forming galaxies when they collide with interstellar gas.

“It’s a significant milestone to finally discover the origins of this gamma-ray emission, solving a mystery of the Universe astronomers have been trying to decipher since the 1960s,” said lead author Dr Matt Roth, from the ANU School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The discovery could offer clues to help astronomers solve other mysteries of the universe, such as what kind of particles make up dark matter – one of the holy grails of astrophysics.

Ancient star death unlocks 13-billion-year space mystery

In a world-first, astronomers from ANU have discovered evidence of a massive explosion that led to the destruction of a rapidly spinning, strongly magnetized star. The so-called ‘magneto-rotational hypernova’ occurred about a billion years after the Big Bang and was 10 times more energetic than a supernova.

The breakthrough discovery, led by an international team of scientists, offers clues for the unusually high concentration of metal elements, such as zinc, in another ancient Milky Way star (SMSS J200322.54-114203.3). Until now, researchers were unable to explain why this star contained unusually high traces of metals.

The team found evidence for the first time directly indicating there was a different type of hypernova producing all stable elements in the periodic table at once – a core-collapse explosion of a fast-spinning, strongly magnetised, massive star.

“We calculate that 13-billion-years ago, J200322.54-114203.3 formed out of a chemical soup that contained the remains of this type of hypernova,” said Dr David Yong, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The study, published in Nature, was co-authored by Nobel Laureate and ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt.