“There’s very few institutes in the world that have this kind of breadth of interdisciplinary collaboration.”
George Sawatzky is the Founder of the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) at the University of British Columbia. It brings together researchers from many disciplines to redefine the properties of the materials in our electronic devices.
To accomplish that goal, it’s not enough to understand chemistry. Just measuring novel properties takes new techniques and experimental capabilities. And interpreting the results and knowing what steps to try next takes high-level theory.
“One person cannot possibly have the top-level expertise in all of those various disciplines, so you really need a team of quite a number of people,” adds Sawatzky.
It’s easy to see how a place like SBQMI attracts this top talent. Their researchers are buzzing about how every day feels like a gathering of colleagues eager to work together to solve big problems.
“I always knew that I wanted to one day build my own lab in Canada. That was a big priority for me,” says SBQMI researcher Alannah Hallas, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UBC.
“I wanted to work in an environment that had this strong possibility for collaboration. You take some of those best elements of being at a large conference, where there’s so much excitement all around you, and you put them all into one building. If I find something cool in the lab, I can literally walk down the hallway to George Sawatzky’s office and show him my data, and I know he’s going to be excited, too.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed through the faculty who thrive in these spontaneous partnerships. Putting people under the same roof means that they can easily share ideas to come up with something completely new.
“I find it extremely exciting to work with young people and develop completely new ideas with experimental techniques,” adds Sawatzky. “And these experimental techniques are developments in themselves. So it’s a matter of trial and error, but starting from a rather deep theoretical idea as to where to go.”
That kind of connection fosters the relationships that lead SBQMI down paths that are often unexpected.
“There’s things that we’re working on now that in five, ten years we’re going somewhere exciting, but I hope new things will keep coming, and I want to be able to chase after those new things,” says SBQMI researcher Sarah Burke, associate professor of physics and astronomy at UBC.
“A lot of that will come from within this building. Being so collaborative means we get pulled in new directions all the time, but those are often way more exciting than the things that we can see. If I can see if coming, it’s probably boring.”