Column: Taking the first steps into the world of quantum materials

2021-06-09

Quantum materials will be one of the cornerstones of future technology and thus a key component of engineering knowledge in our society. If Sweden is to play a prominent role in an international arena, we must provide our engineers with the opportunity to study physics and mathematics at a high level. These are the words of Mattias Klintenberg, professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Jigsaw puzzle with molecules
Developments in quantum materials open the way for applications beyond anything we could previously have dreamed of, writes professor Mattias Klintenberg. Photo: S. Lebègue et al. Phys. Rev. X 3 (2013).

Two decades have passed since a highly intensive period of research in California during which I had the opportunity to develop and implement a new computational model for identifying materials with desirable properties. Systematic quantum mechanical calculations on tens of thousands of materials proved to be a successful strategy. This was a period spent in an intense and vibrant research environment characterised by academic freedom. At the time, interest was focused on materials for applications in biomedical imaging. Today, our research remains focused on the materials of the future – quantum materials.

Mattias Klintenberg, professor at the division
of materials theory. Photo: Private.

Let us start by defining a material as something built of matter and characterised by its properties and structure. It is generally these properties we are interested in for various applications; imagine, a handful of atoms and a little structure provide such diversity! We are used to properties that are dependent on timescales and length scales that we can observe. The properties of a steel, for example, are affected by structures on the micrometre scale and dynamic processes over hours and years.

On an atomic scale, quantum mechanical effects take over and we see properties that sometimes challenge understanding using a macroscopic mindset. With quantum materials, we bring quantum effects measured on a quantum scale (at atomic and subatomic level) up to our own macroscopic world. We achieve quantum states that survive long enough to be measured with an ordinary wristwatch and occur over distances we can measure with a ruler.

This opens the way for applications beyond anything we could previously have dreamed of. Sensors, energy, (quantum) computing and biomedical imaging are fields in which we can expect to witness real quantum leaps thanks to developments in quantum materials. It is likely that quantum materials will revolutionise our technology to the same extent as semiconducting materials once did.

Quantum materials will be one of the cornerstones of future technology and thus a key component of engineering knowledge in our society. If Sweden is to play a prominent role in an international arena, we must provide our engineers with the opportunity to study physics and mathematics at a high level. Our own university has an important role to play by actively working to strengthen physics and mathematics in relevant engineering master’s programmes. By educating creative students with a solid basic knowledge, we lay the foundations for outstanding research, innovation and engineering.

Today, we are taking the first steps into the world of quantum materials, a truly fascinating world!

Mattias Klintenberg, professor at the division of materials theory

Image reference: S. Lebègue et al. Phys. Rev. X 3 (2013), DOI: https://journals.aps.org/prx/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevX.3.031002

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