Michele Mosca conducting an optics experimentMichele Mosca grew up near Windsor with a passion for mathematics and the Detroit Red Wings.

But his expertise in cryptography, and how quantum science will turn the field on its ear, began more by revelation than design during his undergraduate years at the University of Waterloo.

It was a switch tripped by Scott Vanstone and Ron Mullin, leading researchers in the study of encoding and decoding information with mathematics, or cryptography. The timing, in the mid-1990s, coincided with growth of another piece of life-changing technology.

“Cryptography was fun, interesting and really important,’’ Mosca says. “By the end of my undergrad studies, the internet was getting really big. Cryptography was growing into a role of huge magnitude.’’

Mosca is deputy director of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC). More than that, he’s one of the founders.

The fact that “quantum” appears on his business card these days was due to a surprising connection the young, somewhat skeptical, mathematician learned about while studying cryptography at Oxford.

Quantum computing refers to the potential of processing information using particles in the quantum realm — electrons, photons and smaller atomic components. It will handle some incredibly complicated tasks at incredible speeds, which means it can be used to break much of modern cryptography. It also offers new fundamentally snoop-proof encryptions.

Quantum computing, quantum cryptography — at first, Mosca dismissed such mind-bending ideas as “crazy talk.” Still, a flicker of interest grew into a fire as he studied at Oxford University in England.

Not yet 30, he landed back at Waterloo in the late 1990s to help lead uWaterloo’s foray into the world of the very small, first through its new cryptography centre, then as a founding member of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and as one of the creators of IQC.

Today, researchers are set to explore the quantum world in the new Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre — a $160-million building that houses IQC and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.

The beauty of the place? State-of-the-art laboratories, for sure. But Mosca says its sun-lit atrium and the abundance of meeting places “stimulates collaboration and the feeling of community.

“This is the premier home of all these people working in all these disciplines,” he says, “people who are all very interested in what you are doing.”