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Institute for Quantum Science and Technology launched

One of only three in Canada, new unit dedicated to exciting new realms of science
September 23, 2013
Institute for Quantum Science and Technology launched at University of Calgary

Launching the new Institute for Quantum Science and Technology (IQST) were, from left: Marie D’Iorio, executive director, National Institute for Nanotechnology at National Research Council and IQST board member; John Kendall, iCORE general manager, Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures; Barry Sanders, IQST director; MLA Linda Johnson, Calgary-Glenmore, Government of Alberta; Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost (international), University of Calgary; Chip Elliott, chief engineer, Raytheon BBN Technologies, adjunct professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, and principal investigator for Global Environment forNetwork Innovations (GENI). Photo by Riley Brandt

The University of Calgary has created a new institute – the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology (IQST) – dedicated to research, training and outreach in the fast-paced and promising realm of quantum science.

Focused on the key research themes of quantum optics, quantum information, molecular modelling and nanotechnology, and including 100 members, the IQST is the only one of its kind in Western Canada and the third of this scope in Canada.

“The IQST builds on four formidable research strengths at the university,” says professor Barry Sanders, director of the IQST and Alberta Innovates — Technology Futures Chair of Quantum Information Science. “By uniting them under a single umbrella, we are creating a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment that will yield far greater outcomes than if each discipline operated independently,” he adds.

Established by the Faculty of Science and drawing on resources from the departments of chemistry, computer science, mathematics and statistics, as well as physics and astronomy, the IQST’s mission is to advance quantum science and technology.

Watch a video profile of the new IQST.

Quantum science investigates, controls, and exploits natural phenomena at small scales and high energies where standard classical science does not apply. The uncertainty principle and entanglement are examples of the weirdness of quantum mechanics. Quantum science is not just a fascinating puzzle, but also a means to transformative technology.

An example of leading quantum science research is being undertaken by the IQST’s professor Wolfgang Tittel, who works on quantum-based secure communication systems. The purpose of his work is to develop encryption mechanisms to protect sensitive information such as government, medical and bank records.

“The IQST is important because it unites researchers from a broad range of disciplines who think about similar challenges but in different ways and using unique tools,” says Tittel, who also holds an Alberta Innovates — Technology Futures Strategic Research Chair in Quantum Secured Communication. “It’s this richness that gives members of the institute the possibility to crack hard problems.”

In addition to its strong emphasis on cutting-edge research, the institute also serves as a training ground for the brightest young scientists involved in this highly dynamic and rapidly evolving field.

“IQST is beneficial to me because it opens a window into what graduate research in physics is really like,” says Jeremy Witmer, a graduate student who works on building nanoscale photonic devices such as miniature optical circuits used for information processing, sensing and fundamental research. “My time here has convinced me that a career in cutting-edge research is the right choice for me."

Part of the institute’s objectives includes fostering linkages with other institutes and industrial partners around the globe.

For Ed McCauley, vice-president (research), the institute is highly aligned with the university’s overall ambitious Research Strategy.

“Under Professor Barry Sanders’ leadership, the institute will act as a catalyst for advancing the exciting multidisciplinary area of quantum science,” says McCauley. "Together, the IQST team brings a profound knowledge of quantum science and a deep commitment for how its applications can improve human existence.”

The universities of Waterloo and Toronto are the two other post-secondary institutions in Canada with quantum institutes of similar breadth.

In 2005, the University of Calgary hosted the Institute for Quantum Information Science (IQIS). Since then, rapid advances in the discipline and growing research opportunities in the realms of spectroscopy, quantum-nano research and ab-initio theoretical quantum chemistry have set the stage for the establishment of a new institute with a broader mandate.

While retaining the administrative and executive structure of the outgoing IQIS institute, the new IQST includes an addition of 30 members — one quarter of whom already hold professorial positions at the university.

The IQST and its research teams receive about $2 million annually in federal and provincial government grants as well as industry funding to finance research advances. For the next two years, the institute’s operational expenses will be supported by Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures Innovates Centre of Research Excellence, which has committed $150,000 annually.

“The Institute for Quantum Science and Technology supports our goal to grow the province’s research and innovation environment and expand opportunities for economic diversification,” says Randy Goebel, vice-president of iCORE and the Alberta Innovates Academy. “We look forward to continuing our support of Alberta’s leadership in quantum information science.”

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