Quantum Valley takes root

(Photo by Mike Radivois)

Last Friday marked the grand opening of the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre (QNC) at the heart of the University of Waterloo. The facility – costing around $160 million – combines the disciplines of quantum physics and nanotechnology.

“This is a significant milestone.” said University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur.

“There are many institutes of nano technology around the world, and facilities for quantum computing. But to put the two of them together, this is the first of its kind. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

Due to the sensitive nature of quantum and nanoscale experiments, the 285,000-square foot facility is designed to control noise, vibration, electromagnetic interference and radio interference, to name a few.

“There’s a saying that when you go that deep, things get sticky,” said Graeme Williams, a UW graduate from the nanotech engineering program.

“As you go into nano, the equipment that you need is infinitely more complex – and infinitely more expensive. We’re looking at the point of individual atoms or clusters of atoms. In order to do that you need clean facilities, and you need all kinds of equipment that enable you to manipulate those atoms.”

Throughout the event, parallels were drawn between the QNC and the iconic Bell Labs, which won seven nobel prizes for breakthroughs in fields such as laser technology, radio astronomy and multiple programming languages. UW hope that the QNC will become the Bell Labs of the 21st century.

I predict that the discoveries and innovations at Bell Labs led to the companies that created Silicon Valley, so will the discoveries and innovations of the Quantum Nano Center lead to the creation of companies that will be instrumental in transforming the Waterloo Region into an area known as ‘The Quantum Valley’,” said Lazaridis in a speech at the event.

Also in attendance was famous British author and theoretical physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking. Hawking has been instrumental in the promotion of the sciences and education in Waterloo region. This time last year, the Perimeter Institute opened its Stephen Hawking Centre of Theoretical Physics. Hawking spoke at the QNC’s grand opening, praising the region on many different levels.

“I am delighted to be here in Waterloo for this occasion of global scientific significance. I am getting to know Waterloo well; it is clear to me that this place is special,” Hawking revealed.

“It is special for many reasons; its collaborative culture, its research excellence, its philanthropic visionaries, and its leadership in post-secondary education.”

Students from the university crowded outside to catch a glimpse of the famous scientist, even climbing the QNC to look through its windows.

Much to the delight of the crowd, Dr. Hawking made a brief appearance outside to satisfy their curiosity.

In a candid comment at the event, Hamdullahpur spoke of a conversation he had shared with Mr. Lazaridis the night prior on their hopes for the building.

“I was having this conversation with Mike Lazaridis last night.,” Hamdullahpur said.

“We genuinely looked at each other and said: we need to celebrate the next Nobel Prize that will come out of this facility. It was not a light statement, it was a genuine statement. This place has that potential.”

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