“The researchers that were studying silicon probably did not envision transistors,” said Wei Tsen, principal investigator of the Quantum Materials and Devices (QMAD) lab at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC).
The quantum materials studied in his lab could have the same kind of unpredictable—and far-reaching—impact.
There is no hard and fast rule of what makes a material quantum, but quantum materials are definitely novel, weird and useful for making new quantum devices. Tsen and his team explore two-dimensional (2D) materials and the exotic magnetic, electronic or optical properties they exhibit. “We need the right material system to implement new ideas for processing quantum information. Otherwise, it’s all theoretical,” said Tsen.
In the lab, Tsen and his team start with 2D materials by stripping individual compounds down to the single layer limit. They then recombine these materials, layer by layer, to form a new structure. Tsen described the resulting layered material, called a heterostructure, as “more than the sum of its parts.”
“When we combine different 2D materials together to form heterostructures, we might see new phenomena emerge,” said Tsen, also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Science's chemistry department. “This is what makes investigating quantum materials so interesting.”
By studying special properties that arise in quantum materials, Tsen’s research opens new paths for the development of practical quantum devices. The powerful magnetic, electronic or optical properties that could be useful in the design of a quantum device open the door to new applications. Examples include magnetoresistance random access memory (MRAM), high-capacity energy storage and zero-loss electricity transmission.
What the next silicon will be, Tsen cannot yet say. One thing is for sure—it could change our world.