Quantum on the cusp of transforming industry

Leading a global revolution in the way we share and secure information.

By Colin Hunter

Communications Officer, Institute for Quantum Computing


Quantum teleportation (artist rendering)There are “classical” ways to do things, and there are quantum ways to do some things better.

The laboratory of Prof. David Cory at the Institute for Quantum Computing is brimming with experimental equipment, and buzzing with researchers, aimed at harnessing the phenomena of the quantum realm to develop powerful new technologies.

Devices that function according to quantum mechanics (the laws governing the realm of atoms, electrons and nature’sother building blocks) have the potential to be superior to their “classical” counterparts in many important ways.

Cory is particularly interested in how the “spin” properties of quantum particles, such as atoms and electrons, can be utilized to develop innovative and practical new technologies.

“Think of spin as a small bar magnet — the smallest bar magnet allowed by nature,” explains Cory, who joined the University of Waterloo in 2010 as Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing. “We aim to control these systems, to build spin-based information processors and sensors.”

To this end, Cory’s laboratory utilizes a wide range of sophisticated equipment — nuclear magnetic resonance, electron spin resonance, optics and low temperature setups — in the quest to detect, measure and control quantum systems with ever-greater accuracy.

Sufficient control over these systems will enable new technologies — quantum information processors and sensors, for example — with capabilities beyond those of devices that behave according to classical physics.

“We want to change the efficiencies and powers of classical devices, replacing them with more powerful and more precise quantum devices,” says Cory, who joined IQC after following a tenure as professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.

“We’re aiming for better control, more efficient control and higher-efficiency readout.”

Though a full-scale quantum computer is years away, Cory says other quantum technologies are on the cusp of “bursting out of the lab and transforming industry.”

Quantum sensors now under development will likely have near-term applications in chemistry, for example, such as advances in the study of thin-film samples — a process with applications in medicine and materials science.

Research in Cory’s lab is multifaceted, with students and postdoctoral fellows performing experiments in diverse areas including superconductivity, optics, nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres in diamond, and more.

 “What makes our lab unique is the broad range of approaches we’re investigating,” he says. “The future power of quantum computers will likely come from hybrid structures that incorporate different aspects of all these approaches.”