Everyday Life Is Poised for a Quantum Leap

Quantum technologies are on the precipice of radically reshaping lives around the world. But there's one key issue that must be resolved first.

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Quantum technologies are at an exciting point in their development, and researchers hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in our everyday lives.

“We’re at a point in time in quantum technologies where things are really starting to ramp up,” says MengXing Na, PhD student in physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia.

“One classic quantum material that’s been talked about for a really long time is superconductors, and high temperature superconductors, and these materials are already in applications in many different fields from magnetic levitating trains to MRIs.”

The trouble is that today’s superconducting materials still need to be cooled down to low temperatures to work, and that presents many practical challenges when it comes to building them into devices. Even MRI machines need to be cooled when they’re used in medical imaging, and that makes these technologies more complex than they would be if we could use them at everyday temperatures.

“Imagine what we could do if we could have these machines working at room temperature,” says Andrea Damascelli, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia and Scientific Director at the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute

“The cost would go down. Their availability would increase. These machines and the diagnostic power that comes with it would become available to everyone in the world.”

Beyond the applications that are already clear to us now, the properties of quantum materials are often so unexpected, that the research can take many surprising turns. And that means we’re likely to end up in places we never expected to go.

“There are so many other areas in which materials would have an impact, but to me the most exciting part is the one we can’t possibly imagine,” adds Damascelli.

“This has always been the history of discovery, from discovery of medicines, and drugs, and new technologies. These all came from what we consider to be serendipity. Reality is not quite serendipity. These were people who were after an idea and on that path, perhaps, something unexpected came up. But yet these people had the ability to recognize that and this is really to me the most exciting part.”

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Andrea Damascelli is a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in the Electronic Structure of Quantum Materials. He currently serves as Scientific Director of the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute at UBC and Co-Director of the Max Planck-UBC-UTokyo Centre for Quantum Materials.

Damascelli works in one of the most advanced areas of condensed matter physics — quantum materials — systems that exhibit new electronic properties, such as high-temperature superconductivity. His work has gained global recognition and helped make Canada a leader in the field of photoelectron spectroscopy — a highly sophisticated technique that images the energy and velocity of electrons propagating inside a material. Particularly, he is internationally recognized for his studies of superconducting cuprates and other correlated oxides by spin-, time-, and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (Spin-ARPES and TR-ARPES), as well as resonant x-ray scattering (RXS).

Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.