Sydney university student Pablo Bonilla, 21, had his first academic paper published overnight and it might just change the shape of computing forever.
- Pablo Bonilla’s code has caught the interest of researchers at US universities and tech giant Amazon
- The code is a small modification to one that has been studied for 20 years
- Mr Bonilla completed HSC-level maths at age 15 and was invited to work on a University of Sydney project
As a second-year physics student at the University of Sydney, Mr Bonilla was given some coding exercises as extra homework and what he returned with has helped to solve one of the most common problems in quantum computing.
His code spiked the interest of researchers at Yale and Duke in the United States and the multi-billion-dollar tech giant Amazon plans to use it in the quantum computer it is trying to build.
“It’s very exciting because quantum computing is very much in its infancy but there are so many talented people around the world working on this,” Mr Bonilla said.
Quantum computing is considered the future of computing and is being developed using theoretical physics at the microscopic level.
It is believed a quantum computer would be capable of running large simulations to solve complex problems for industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals and cyber-security, and would facilitate huge leaps forward with artificial intelligence.
Assistant professor Shruti Puri of Yale’s quantum research program said the new code solved a problem that had persisted for 20 years.
“What amazes me about this new code is its sheer elegance,” she said.
“Its remarkable error-correcting properties are coming from a simple modification to a code that has been studied extensively for almost two decades.”
Co-author of the paper, the University of Sydney’s Ben Brown, said the brilliance of Pablo Bonilla’s code was in its simplicity.
“It’s wild, it’s such a small change but I really like the simple ideas, I think they’re the best,” Dr Brown said.
“We just made the smallest of changes to a chip that everybody is building, and all of a sudden it started doing a lot better.
“It’s quite amazing to me that nobody spotted it in the 20-or-so years that people have been working on that model.”
Mr Bonilla said there was no denying the paper had been hard work, but he said it was made easier because the team were so genuinely excited about the possibilities of quantum computing.
“There’s definitely long hours but after you put out research like we did, it pays off,” he said.
When he is not knee-deep in equations and code, Mr Bonilla said he likes to spend time with his family and friends, play soccer, and go jogging near his home in Rooty Hill, in Sydney’s west.
Mr Bonilla came to Australia with his family as a boy.
“I was 11 years old when I came to Sydney,” he said.
“We came from Uruguay in 2011, so it’s my parents, one brother and one little sister and they’re awesome.
“It was quite different from Uruguay, and we definitely missed our family, but the opportunities that Australia provided, and Sydney in particular for me, made it worth it.”
Mr Bonilla showed academic promise as a student at Bossley Park High School.
After completing HSC-level maths at the age of just 15, he was invited to work on a research project at the University of Sydney.
Mr Bonilla is now a fourth-year honours student and plans to go on to do his PhD.
Dr Brown said he has no doubt his student will go a very long way.
“He was really leading from the front,” he said.
“It’s great to see all this energy and determination from somebody so young.
“He’s very hardworking and very dedicated, but he is hideously modest.”
The research paper was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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