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Donation leads to quantum leap

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Researchers work in one of the university's existing electrical, seismic and acoustic isolation labs. 
Submitted

Researchers work in one of the university's existing electrical, seismic and acoustic isolation labs. Submitted

The construction of multiple vibration-proof, underground quantum physics test labs and research into the development of new superconductors will be supported by a $11 million donation recently received by the University of B.C.

As part of the donation, from university alumnus Stewart Blusson, the Quantum Matter Institute will now be named the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute.

Andrea Damascelli, director of the institute, said the money would be split among a number of projects, including the funding of four specialized, 80-tonne underground test labs designed to be isolated from the rest of the world, as part of a new five-storey structure on East Mall.

“Probably one of the biggest aspects is not the equipment you can use but actually the lab space,” Damascelli said.

“We’re building a new building — this basement has rooms that are vibrationally and acoustically separated from the rest of the building, with no connection to the roads, the noise and the vibration that comes in. Basically, the instruments are going to be sitting on a gigantic isolation block ... floating on what we call isolators — compressed air isolators.”

This type of artificial-environment producing technology underlines one of the key goals of quantum physics — the creation of materials that aren’t commonly found in nature, or that are only present in extreme circumstances.

The labs help create those unique environments. One focus for UBC researchers has been the development of superconductors.

“Superconductors, it’s usually these materials, cool them down to minus 2,700 degrees, and now they can carry current with no resistance,” he said.

“Really, what you want to achieve is higher transition temperature.”

An example of that work involved the thinning of iron-selenium-based superconductors to a single layer of atoms, which resulted in transition temperatures 10 times higher than previously, Damascelli said.