News / Edmonton

The 'second coming' of quantum: New graduate program turning physicists into entrepreneurs

Researchers from the University of Alberta hope the program will help put Alberta on the map as a scientific research hub

John Davis, Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Physics, on March 23, 2017. Together with Callum Doolin, PhD student, and his brother Pearse Doolin, the three have spun off a research company named Resolved Instruments.

John Ulan / Supplied

John Davis, Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Physics, on March 23, 2017. Together with Callum Doolin, PhD student, and his brother Pearse Doolin, the three have spun off a research company named Resolved Instruments.

A new graduate program at the University of Alberta is hoping to leave a big mark on scientific research by training more students to put their knowledge of tiny, microscopic nanotechnologies to real world use.

QUANTA—or quantum nanotechnology training in Alberta—is a partnership between almost a dozen academics at the U of A and the University of Calgary who are hoping to merge the worlds of science and entrepreneurship.

The graduate program hopes to go beyond training students for a lifetime of academia, by introducing writing skills, presentation skills and the ability to speak like a businessperson.

“I really want Alberta to be the place where there’s venture capital, where there’s this culture of entrepreneurship. Where there’s a slew of interesting young companies that have been started by graduate students,” said John Davis, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and lead of QUANTA.

Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on a nanoscale, or about one-billionth of a metre.

The program is the first of its kind in Canada and recently received $1,650,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

“It’s the funding that enables us to do something new. And what that is is have a new kind of focus on graduate training,” Davis said.

That new focus is an emphasis on training graduate students to utilize their expertise and academic knowledge on nanotechnology to create new products for the market – especially in Alberta.

“Instead of just exporting our graduate students, how do we bring that expertise back and keep it here … How do we make sure we’re not shipping them off to Ontario or Silicon Valley? How do we keep this brain power here?”

In the last 5 to 10 years, Davis said there’s been a “second coming” in the field of quantum nanotechnology.

“It’s not just about a single electron, or a single atom … We can start to put them together in interesting ways and make actual devices or technology,” he said.

The devices nanotechnology has the potential to transform are hard to visualize – think of how a CPU can double in speed from year to year without getting any bigger. Davis expects the technology to revolutionize the information and communications sectors of the future.

“It’s clear that all of the communications industries, banking, anything with secure information is going to be affected,” he said. “And that’s because a quantum computer is something that can solve a particular kind of problem, which is the encryption algorithm.”

“The more that we foster these late 20s, early 30s people who are really striving to make this city and province a better place, that’s what we really want to encourage.”

The program currently has about 25 graduate students. Students graduate with either a master’s degree or PHd in physics or engineering, with a new certificate in quantum nanotechnology.

“We hope to actually use this fund, this leveraging and attention to dramatically increase our recruiting, maybe double that number.”

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