Quantum science focuses on the phenomena of the infinitesimally small – on the atomic and molecular scale – to understand and transform our world. The Université de Sherbrooke, a leader in this thriving discipline, is launching a brand new undergraduate program this fall aimed at training a new generation of scientists. Overview of this fascinating and, above all, very promising field.
Our society is just beginning to take an interest in the quantum world, but the Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS), for its part, has already been studying the issue for almost 50 years. A journey that gave rise to the foundation of its Quantum Institute, which will be inaugurated in May 2022 and which brings together researchers from different disciplines – engineering, mathematics, chemistry, computer science – to carry out fundamental research work leading to the development of technologies from the future. This interdisciplinarity, which is very rare in the quantum sciences, gives rise to advanced research, which has built the reputation of the teaching institution, both here and abroad.
This interdisciplinary approach is at the heart of the new quantum science program at UdeS, the very first of its kind in the world, which meets the crying need for a specialized and qualified workforce. Three professors deeply involved in the design of the program are unveiling the extraordinary potential of the quantum sciences, both for our society in general and for those who want to make it their specialty.
Professor Nancy Dumais, who conducts research in cellular and molecular biology as well as in microbiology-immunology, is responsible for management and coordination of the bachelor’s program in quantum science. She is also director of the Center for Competence in Research Plus (CR+) at UdeS.
UdeS in a leading position
Thanks to its 2nd and 3rd cycle programs, UdeS has long trained people working in various spheres of the quantum ecosystem. The professor-researchers’ expertise in physics and quantum computing at the Faculty of Science is internationally recognized. It is for these reasons that they were awarded the Apogee Fund, one of the largest grants in Canada, which led to the founding of the Institut quantique. This innovative infrastructure stands out for its pioneering research in quantum materials, information and engineering, where researchers from all over the world collaborate.
A groundbreaking program
The creation of the new bachelor’s program completes the faculty’s educational offer in quantum science and technology. Students registered for the matriculation exam will have access to a stimulating and innovative environment based on active learning in small groups, which will give them the opportunity to acquire theoretical and practical knowledge. Students, who will have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, will undertake paid collaborative internships and will be able to learn about the entrepreneurial culture – with the School of Management – to better meet the challenges of tomorrow. Although the discipline of quantum science is still developing, employers such as Anyon Systems, 1QBit, Nord Quantique and giants such as Google, Apple and IBM are already well established in the country.
Applications full of promises
Quantum science will be necessary for the society of the future, as it will make it possible to push back the limits of current calculations by using the properties of matter at the atomic scale. The possible applications of quantum science, which are very broad, can affect fields as diverse as chemistry – thanks to the discovery of new molecules that can be used to treat diseases -, cyber security, quantum cryptography, the development of new materials and quantum simulation.
The area of expertise of Professor Michel Pioro-Ladrière, who is also deputy director of the Institut quantique, is quantum computing. More specifically, he is working on the development of spin-qubits, promising quantum devices for the realization of a quantum computer.
A field with very specific applications
We must break the perception that quantum science is very complex – even though no one can claim to understand quantum mechanics, whose postulates defy intuition! – and rather talk about their applications, which are very real. Because this field is behind the most important technological advances of the last decades. A few examples: GPS, which works using atomic clocks; medical imaging, which uses nuclear magnetic resonance; and the laser, which is also based on the quantum properties of matter and light. Without forgetting that quantum theory has made possible the understanding of semiconductors, which are the core of the microelectronics industry. Quantum science is driving the development of technologies that are transforming our world, and these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. We are already talking about another quantum revolution.
The role of quantum computers in advancing modern science
From the early 1980s, the Nobel Prize in Physics Richard Feynman predicted that the use of quantum computers would not only speed up calculations, but also perform certain calculations impossible for a conventional computer. What he foresaw was that by daring to bend to the rules of nature on a microscopic scale, science and quantum technologies could dramatically change our way of life. Forty years later, the quantum computer, the cornerstone of this coming revolution, will make it possible to develop new materials, increase the effectiveness of medicines, accelerate progress in artificial intelligence and answer fundamental questions, starting with those concerning the origin of the universe. .
The race against time
In addition to quantum technologies and applications, the next major challenge is the development of the quantum computer. Due to the progress of recent years, the question is no longer whether it is possible to produce a quantum computer, but rather when, where and by whom it should be designed. Most of the companies participating in this global race talk about a ten-year horizon. One thing is certain: even if the quantum computer does not exist tomorrow, we must be ready for its arrival to get the maximum benefit from it. To do this, we need to train scientists so that they can program this type of computer for the benefit of society. This is also the ultimate goal of the bachelor’s degree in quantum science.
Specialist in physical sciences and molecular physical-chemistry and vice-dean for development and partnerships at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Professor Armand Soldera considers that it is the interconnection of several disciplines that makes it possible to better capture phenomena and get out of ties of first importance . A characteristic of the bachelor’s degree in quantum science at UdeS.
Observe the infinitely small
His field of research focuses on the use of computers to represent what happens at the molecular level in materials such as plastics. The purpose is to compare the calculations made by computers with those obtained by experimental measurements. If there is agreement, it means that reality is correctly depicted and that we can therefore predict the behavior of a material even before we create it. Theoretical chemistry can be used to perform such operations, but its computational resources are limited. The use of a quantum computer, which would perform calculations beyond the capacity of a classical computer, would solve many problems related to this technique and would provide very precise results.
At the intersection of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
Recent breakthroughs in quantum technologies – such as the development of the quantum computer – have been made possible by sustained efforts in research and development and by joint efforts from several areas of expertise. It is in this context of innovation that UdeS created the bachelor’s degree in quantum science. It will make it possible to train a specialized workforce that is essential to support the efforts to be made in terms of research and development, to fuel new companies in the quantum field and to create future large companies that will impose itself in this research sector. activity in the coming years.
A definite future
Economic analysts are clear: problem solving using quantum computers will dominate the market for quantum technologies, which is estimated to be worth several billion dollars, in the coming years. In addition to numbers, quantum computing contributes to the development of solutions to various social problems. Currently, multinational companies such as IBM, Google, Intel and Microsoft – as well as local companies such as Sherbrooke’s Nord Quantique – are participating in the quantum computer race. At the same time, quantum science has already enabled several organizations to implement applications for financing, developing fertilizers or optimizing Montreal City’s bus network, for example, and they are contributing to the development of ultra-sensitive sensors that would be able to detect objects buried under the ground. This last application is currently marketed by companies such as Qubic and SBQuantum in Sherbrooke.
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The Faculty of Natural Sciences at the Université de Sherbrooke is dedicated to training an enlightened scientific future that will contribute to the development of society and the dissemination of scientific culture. The members of its community make it their duty to carry out with integrity the research work necessary to produce new knowledge and technological development. Both the Faculty of Science and the Université de Sherbrooke are committed to promoting science and critical knowledge.
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