Research with "potential to change the world"

"You can't imagine how powerful a quantum computer is going to be. We want to build one and show you," says Waterloo researcher

By Brian Caldwell

University Relations

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David Cory didn’t waste any time getting down to business after Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science for Canada, announced $76.3 million in federal funding Tuesday for a project that will boost the University of Waterloo’s position at the forefront of groundbreaking quantum research.

With about 150 dignitaries, colleagues and other guests on hand in the atrium at the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, the professor at the helm of the winning initiative seized the opportunity to reach out to potential industry partners and collaborators.

“You want to do something that’s not allowed in the classical world?” asked Cory. “Well then, that sounds quantum. Come and see us. Perhaps we can help.”

Cory, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing at the Institute for Quantum Computing, underlined the practical aims of fundamental research involving theoretical and experimental physics, computer science and engineering.

The focus of the Transformative Quantum Technologies program is on harnessing the enormous power of quantum mechanics to build breakthrough devices in fields including medicine, health, navigation, the environment and new materials.

“Quantum devices have the potential to change the world,” said Cory, a professor in the Department of Chemistry. “We would like to see it happen. We would like to see it happen right here.”

Quantum work at Waterloo is one of 13 research initiatives at universities across the country selected for a total of $900 million in funding through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which was created in 2014 to help post-secondary institutions become global leaders in areas of expertise.

Earth Sciences Professor Philippe Van Cappellen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ecohydrology and member of the Water Institute, and his colleagues will receive $15 million under the CFREF program. Waterloo is the largest partner in Global Water Futures, an initiative led by the University of Saskatchewan to find ways of managing water resources adversely affected by climate change. CFREF will contribute more than $77 million to the overall initiative of almost $145 million, making it the largest university-led water research program ever funded worldwide.

Duncan, who led the announcement on behalf of the federal government, described Waterloo as “already a world-leader in quantum research” and said she looks forward to “learning all that you will discover.” She was accompanied by the Bardish Chagger, House Leader and Minister of Small Business and Tourism, as well as a Waterloo science graduate.

Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo, returned the praise for the  government investment in fundamental research and innovation to drive economic growth and social progress, goals that mirror the University’s own “mission” since it was founded almost 60 years ago.

“This is nation-building, ladies and gentlemen, and Canada’s universities are proud to play our part,” he said.

Mike Lazaridis, co-founder and former co-CEO of BlackBerry, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in his vision of Waterloo Region as Quantum Valley, a global player at the heart of tremendous technological developments.

Comparing the magnitude of coming changes to those of the industrial and information revolutions, the current co-founder and managing partner of Quantum Valley Investments said that understanding and utilizing quantum mechanics “will enable advances that would be impossible with even the best classical technologies.”

Stressing a similar point, Cory cited computers and how much faster they will be when teams of researchers working across disciplines unlock the full potential of the laws and properties at the deepest level of the atomic world.

“You can’t imagine how powerful a quantum computer is going to be,” he said. “We want to build one and show you. That’s the most convincing way forward.”