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Quantum photonics for everyone

Quantum photonics for everyone

Carlos Silva

Carlos Silva

Image credit: Amelie Philibert, University of Montreal

In 5 seconds

The new director of the Courtois Institute and recipient of a Canada Research Excellence Chair, physicist Carlos Silva wants to shed much-needed light on his obscure field.

It happens often Carlos Silva Having to explain what he does.

He is a physicist who specializes in materials used in quantum photonics. What are these materials? When asked to answer this question, he should begin by defining photonics in simple terms: it is the study of light used for a particular function, as in the case of lasers inside printers or the energy of solar cells in garden lights. Did I understand correctly? However, quantum photonics is a completely different matter. To understand what this is all about, you should already have some basic concepts of quantum mechanics. In fact, everything related to the idea of ​​quantum is somewhat outside the scope of the general knowledge of the general public.

Carlos Silva hopes to change this reality by making the public aware of the fundamental research work he does at the University of Montreal. Having just been selected as the holder of a Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Quantum Photonics, with a budget of $1 million per year over eight years, he will therefore have a platform to demonstrate to society how important it is for scientists like him to be able to achieve this. Producing new knowledge.

“In my profession, any meaningful communication with the general public is always a challenge,” says Carlos Silva, who took over the company.Courtois Institute From UdeM, created in 2021, where fundamental research is conducted “at the intersection of new materials, quantum physics and artificial intelligence” and where star researchers such as Yoshua Bengio and Gilles Brassard work.

“Part of the challenge is trying to explain university research funding, and part is explaining how valid and useful a product like ours is,” says Carlos Silva. My mission is not to design a specific app or device, something that people will be able to buy in eight years and use in their daily lives. My mission is simply to produce new knowledge that will advance science and, hopefully, lead to conceptual revolutions that may ultimately give rise to new technologies.

“Revolutions are useful”

After all, as Carlos Silva says, in science, “revolutions are more useful than simple incremental improvements.” Let us consider here the birth of quantum mechanics and general relativity a century ago. “At the time, no one was thinking about computers, communications, and GPS,” he says. However, from a fundamental point of view, all these inventions come from physics. We therefore believe that new knowledge can be transformative and extremely beneficial for everyone. This is what every creative community seeks.”

In his dual role as CERC Holder and Director of the Courtois Institute, Carlos Silva plans to conduct research in the public interest, as well as develop his research organization in a way that makes it a global magnet for future talent. .

“My research chair is funded by the Canadian government and therefore by taxpayers, so I have to produce something that benefits Canada,” says Carlos Silva.

He continues: “Moreover, the institute is funded through a large private donation [159 M$ de la Fondation Courtois, présidée par l’homme d’affaires québécois Jacques Courtois] With a very specific goal of creating a culture of creativity in Montreal like that found in hotspots of new technologies like Silicon Valley and the Boston area.

Carlos Silva explains that the institute’s mission “is not to become a business incubator. Rather, its role is to create internationally recognized cutting-edge activities in basic science that spark creativity and that will ultimately enable a local researcher to win a Nobel Prize. “It’s a bit like what Bell Labs did in the 1960s and 1970s: develop basic science that leads to big discoveries.”

“human-made” materials

The research work will have to be carried out in the laboratories of the Courtois Institute, located in the Science Park of the MIL Campus of the UdeM. Carlos Silva’s CERC aims to study “light matter interactions in photovoltaic materials”, which he explains are “made by humans, in… While they are synthetic materials that range from the organic form to the hybrid organic and inorganic form, or even the inorganic form, they are designed by chemists, scientists, and engineers.

Carlos Silva, who is of Mexican descent and grew up in Venezuela, had a natural interest in science, an interest nurtured by his family, teachers, and mentors from an early age. In the 1990s, he moved to the United States after receiving a scholarship from Harvard UniversityInstitute of International EducationThis allowed him to earn a dual bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics from Luther College in Iowa, then complete his doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of Minnesota.

In 2001, he moved to England as a postdoctoral researcher at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, where he studied under Prof. Richard is a friend. Nominated Advanced Research Fellow From the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom in the same year. In 2005, Canada asked for it: Carlos Silva accepted a position at UdeM as Canada Research Chair and Assistant Professor of Physics. Over the next decade, he “rose through the ranks,” becoming a full professor in 2015. However, the United States again made him an attractive offer, and, as he recalls, “I left in 2017 for Georgia Tech.

Today, he returns to UdeM, which gives him the opportunity, thanks to CERC and his appointment to the Courtois Institute, “to advance like never before”, both professionally and personally. “Montreal is actually the place I’ve lived continuously for the longest time,” says Carlos Silva, who has dual Mexican and Canadian citizenship.

Recruitment to allocate chairs

At the Courtois Institute, he now intends to “work to recruit people who will change the situation for us”, that is, young scientists who are already recognized in their field. “We have the ability to recruit people with promising talent and create a research environment that will provide a platform for increased creativity, a higher level of excellence, etc.,” he says. The Institute will award six chairs. He holds one as a director. Two of them were announced at the end of September (awarded to William Witzzak-Kremba in Physics and Mikael Dolli in Chemistry), while three will be announced “over the next few years.”

In his spare time, Carlos Silva travels a lot to Mexico, goes horseback riding (when he was young he competed at the national level), feeds his son’s passion for lasers and his daughter’s passion for literature and theater, as well as tinkering at home – “I’m a DIYer and I really like to experiment” – While he indulges in his greatest hobby, Chinese and Mexican cooking.

As Carlos Silva points out, “Sometimes it is good to put aside the work, lasers and personnel problems of the institute and give in to the demands to devote your energy to everyday things, and cooking is a good way to ‘make it happen’.”

“As long as you practice enough, it is possible to become good and creative. The question is always the same: How can I turn this into something new?” he concludes.

About this CERC

Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Light-Matter Interactions in Materials

Quantum photonics takes advantage of the unique properties exhibited by light in a precise quantum state to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies such as quantum computing, cryptography and teleportation. These applications include photon production, processing, and detection. Understanding how particles interact with their environment is crucial for developing scalable quantum photonic materials and determining the quantum state of emitted light.

The work carried out by the Carlos Silva Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) aims to understand and control the quantum dynamics of light-induced excited states in condensed matter, and thus determine whether light emission occurs under a quantum or classical regime.

More specifically, they will use laser pulses down to a millionth of a billionth of a second to explore how quantum information is dissipated due to interactions between states created by light and its environment. Second, the research will involve light in a well-defined “entangled” quantum state, as well as measuring the change in the quantum state of light resulting from interactions between light and matter. These two parallel approaches will provide a complete understanding of quantum dynamics necessary for the development of quantum photonics technologies.

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