Microsoft teams up with Sydney University

James Hall
The University of Sydney is part of a team hoping to create the world's first quantum computer.

Sydney is in the running to build and operate the world's first quantum computer in what experts are calling this generation's space race.

Microsoft and the University of Sydney have teamed up to research and develop a quantum computer capable of solving problems current computers can't.

At the announcement of the multi-year partnership in Sydney on Tuesday, the tech giant said the potential for the science was endless and could solve global issues including climate change and medicine.

Quantum computers promise to deliver a massive increase in processing power over conventional computers by using a single electron or nucleus of an atom as the basic processing unit - a quantum bit, or qubit.

By performing multiple calculations simultaneously, quantum computers could be applied to economic modelling, fast database searches, modelling of biological molecules and drugs, and encryption and decryption of information.

The university's Professor David Reilly is in charge of the project, named Station Q Sydney, and said while current computers allow scientists to analyse atoms inside of materials, they can't create materials from specific elements.

"What we can't do at the moment in our technology is we can't go in reverse," Prof Reilly said.

"I can't give you the periodic table and say, there, choose any element you like on the periodic table (and) assemble them in a combination I want."

With the quantum computer, he said chemical properties such as the strength of magnates could be combined with thermal or electrical properties to design and build entirely new materials.

"Having a quantum computer gives us the computational power to start to attack quantum chemistry problems and quantum materials problems that reverse that whole process," Prof Reilly said.

The tech giant had the luxury of picking a "dream team" of academics from across the world and chose the team at the University of Sydney.

"Sydney represents this very unique capability of spanning physics through engineering," said Microsoft's head architect of their quantum computation team Doug Carmean.

The partnership with Microsoft will join Purdue University in the US, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Denmark's University of Copenhagen.

But Prof Reilly said Sydney was best placed to get the computer running.

"It's going to come together here in this country, in this city, I think is where we switch on the quantum machine."