Imperial College London

A tribute to Dr Sean Barrett

Dr Sean Barrett

Dr Sean Barrett


Dr Sean Barrett, from the Department of Physics, was tragically killed in a car accident in Perth, Australia on Friday 19 October. Sean was an outstanding physicist, whose research was furthering Science’s understanding of Quantum Physics and Quantum Computing, and his loss will be greatly felt by the academic community.  

Here, Professor Myungshik Kim and Dr Terry Rudolph pay tribute to their friend and colleague.

“Sean did his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Cambridge University. His doctoral work was on quantum information processing in a condensed matter system, a topic he was among the first to study. His pioneering PhD work was recognised by him moving to a prominent junior position at HP Labs in Bristol where he had full freedom to further develop his interest in implementations of quantum information processing. After a brief spell at Imperial College London as a postdoc, then Macquarie University, Sydney, as faculty, he came back to England to hold a prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship at Imperial College London. This tragedy happened only one year after his appointment to a lectureship at Imperial.  

Physics was Sean’s passion, a vocation he had embraced wholeheartedly.  Over his career Sean demonstrated an extraordinary versatility in understanding deeply the physics of very different physical systems including quantum dots, cavity quantum electrodynamics, trapped atoms and ions, superconducting qubits and nonlinear optics. He would then apply his deep insights and his talent for connecting abstract theory with real-world implementations to further his often stated ambition: to play a fundamental role in building the first quantum computer. He knew that such a device would have a transformative impact on society, and he wanted to be part of that. Towards the same incredibly ambitious goal (one that many of us hesitate to pursue so directly), he also embraced in recent years more abstract mathematical work such as topological quantum error correction. As a complete aside he had just started some fascinating work on medical imaging. 

Working with Sean was a joy.  He organised Wednesday breakfast meetings for the Controlled Quantum Dynamics Group for two years, and his hugely charismatic personality was a crucial part of their success. He had questions and ideas on every topic discussed there. He sometimes amazed the speakers with his fast grasp of new ideas and identification of problems and then entertained them with silly questions as well. We all learned from him the important lesson to have the courage to question something until you understand it, regardless of how easy it seems to be to your peers.

Sean cared deeply about the careers of his graduate students and those he taught. He was an energetic, extremely clear and pedagogical lecturer, and we have heard many stories from people he greatly inspired. His postgraduate lectures were one of the most popular courses within the Centre for Controlled Quantum Dynamics at Imperial.

We will miss Sean’s humour, his reliability, his basic ‘mateship’ and his fundamental decency as a human being.”  

 The following comments have been shared:

Martin Garthwaite:

How tragic, I had no idea when I saw this story on the news that it was so close to home.


Words can't express how saddened we are to hear of your loss. Rest in peace, Sean...


Ah Sean- you were a legend and a tribute to all Englishmen.

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