UBC positioned as global leader in quantum materials research with $66.5-million federal investment

Andrea Damascelli, director of UBC's Quantum Matter Institute.

A $66.5-million investment from the Government of Canada—the largest government investment in a single UBC research program—will enhance UBC’s standing as a global leader in quantum matter research and help connect university research with industry.

UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute (QMI), the recipient of the $66.5-million investment over seven years from the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund, is a world-class centre of excellence in quantum research. This investment builds on past government support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canada Excellence Research Chair and Canada Research Chair programs, Western Economic Diversification and the BC Knowledge Development Fund.

UBC is one of only five recipients selected through a highly competitive process that, together, received a total of almost $350 million in the inaugural round of funding. The funding program was created to propel Canada’s top performing institutions and research centres onto the world stage.

“We are thrilled with the federal government’s vision to invest $66.5 million to help establish UBC as a global centre for high-tech quantum materials research,” said UBC President Arvind Gupta. “The groundbreaking scientific discoveries in this field have the potential to create practical applications that could spur new industries and employment here and abroad and provide significant public benefits in areas like health and the environment.”

Quantum physics is the study of the unusual behaviour of matter and energy at the atomic level, where the laws of classical physics do not apply. Quantum effects are more apparent under extreme conditions such as low temperatures, but can be enhanced and harnessed in quantum materials— systems with astonishing electronic and magnetic properties that hold tremendous potential for future technological applications. Discoveries in this field are expected to lead to a revolution in computing, electronics, medicine and sustainable energy technologies.

“UBC’s quantum matter community is extremely excited about today’s funding announcement,” said Andrea Damascelli, QMI director. “Support from Canada First Research Excellence Fund will propel our Quantum Matter Institute to the very forefront of the field internationally. By enabling us to fully exploit our institute’s state-of-the-art infrastructure and further strengthen our international partnerships, especially with the Max Planck Society of Germany, this funding program will advance Canada’s position as a global leader in quantum materials and future technologies.”

QMI is also home to the Max Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials, which fosters collaborations with 10 Max Planck institutes. This is the third international centre ever established outside Germany by the prestigious Max Planck Society, and the only one fully dedicated to quantum materials research.

“The relationship between UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute and the Max Planck Society, Germany’s premier institution for fundamental research, shows how the exchange of ideas and cooperation across borders can lead to important discoveries in the emerging field of quantum materials,” said Bernhard Keimer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research. “With this funding, we look forward to creating more joint research activities, expanding opportunities for students and young scientists, and producing extraordinary scientific results together.”

UBC, under the leadership of former president Stephen Toope, played a key role in the creation of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund working with other universities and in partnership with the federal government. UBC would like to congratulate the research team, faculty and staff involved in the funding application on their success.

Quantum matter research at UBC

UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute (QMI) is internationally recognized for its research and discoveries in the field of quantum materials. A $66.5-million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund will broaden the scope of QMI’s research.

What is UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute (QMI)?

QMI was created in 2010 and is made up of a research team of 13 professors, plus students, technicians and postdoctoral fellows. The group will grow to 20 professors by 2019. In 2012, QMI became the home of the Max Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials, the only international Max Planck Centre focused on quantum materials research. UBC welcomed Harvard physicist Jennifer Hoffman as its new Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Materials and Devices Based on Oxide Heterostructures in June 2015. QMI will move into a new state-of-the-art facility in summer 2016.

What is UBC’s vision for the future of quantum materials?

Over the longer term, the materials and devices conceived within QMI are likely to create the foundation for new technologies. Entrepreneurial students or faculty can spin-off these concepts into start-up companies. QMI will anchor new companies or even whole industries around UBC, resulting in British Columbia becoming a hub for next-generation technologies that we cannot yet fully imagine.

How are quantum materials used today?

Few quantum materials are currently used in industrial applications today as we are still trying to understand the basic physics and chemistry and how to create them, in order to control and harness their properties.

How is UBC helping to find applications for quantum materials?

The new federal funding marks the beginning of enhanced research on applications. While a lot of QMI’s previous work advanced our understanding of the fundamental science, the goal going forward is to better control the properties of quantum materials. QMI aims to build materials with the desired quantum properties using a process that is suited for industrial applications. The materials will consist of thin films only a few atoms thick and the researchers will stack layers of different materials on top of each other with atomic precision forming so-called heterostructures.

The team will identify the most promising materials and devices for next-generation electronic, communication, computing, medical and renewable energy technologies.
QMI will also create first-of-their-kind examples of radically new device concepts that exploit novel properties of quantum materials and illustrate entirely new types of functions that transcend current technologies.

How will quantum materials be used in the future?

Controlling these materials could, for example, reduce MRI scanners from the size of a garden shed to a portable laptop-sized device, enable superefficient electrical grids, and economize superconductive materials like those used in magnetic levitation trains. They could also lead to a wide range of more efficient and powerful computing and electronic devices such as high-performance batteries and supercapacitors, ultra-low power/high-speed transistors, new computing architectures, and ultra-sensitive bio-sensors.

What are quantum materials?

Every material is intrinsically quantum mechanical at the atomic level. However, we use the name to describe materials that exhibit astonishing properties that completely depart from classical physics on a macroscopic scale.

What are examples of quantum properties?

Superconductivity and magnetism are properties of quantum materials. If you delve deeper into the physics, you’ll find other properties that relate to the charge and movement of electrons which are tiny bits of negatively charged matter that zip around the nucleus of an atom like planets orbiting a very small sun. These effects are enhanced under extreme conditions like very cold temperatures or high pressure but the goal is to develop quantum materials that exhibit these properties at elevated temperatures for use in ambient conditions. Quantum materials include copper and iron-based superconductors and graphene.

By enabling us to fully exploit our institute’s state-of-the-art infrastructure and further strengthen our international partnerships this funding program will advance Canada’s position as a global leader.

Alex Walls
Media Relations Specialist, UBC Media Relations