Quantum photonics for everyone | UdeMNouvelles – udemnouvelles

Carlos Silva

Carlos Silva

Photo credit: Amélie Philibert, University of Montreal

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The Courtois Institute’s new director and Canada Excellence Research Chair holder, physicist Carlos Silva, wants to bring his obscure field to the light it so desperately needs.

Carlos Silva often has to explain what he does.

As a physicist, he specializes in materials for quantum photonics. What materials are these? To answer this question, he must first define photonics in simple terms: it is the study of light used for a specific function, as in the case of lasers in printers or solar cells in garden lamps. Did you understand it correctly? That being said, quantum photonics is a completely different matter. To understand what this is about, you must already have some basic knowledge of quantum mechanics. To tell the truth, everything related to this quantum concept is somewhat outside the realm of general knowledge of the general public.

Carlos Silva hopes to change this reality by raising public awareness of the type of basic research he conducts at the University of Montreal. Having just been named the holder of a Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in quantum photonics with a budget of $1 million per year for eight years, it gives him a platform to show how important it is to society that scientists like him are capable of producing new knowledge.

“In my job, any meaningful communication with the public is always a challenge,” acknowledges Carlos Silva, who since July has taken over the management of the UdeM’s Courtois Institute, founded in 2021, where basic research is carried out on the interface between new materials, quantum physics and artificial Intelligence” and where star researchers like Yoshua Bengio and Gilles Brassard work.

“Part of the challenge is to explain university research funding, and the other part is to show how a product like ours is both valid and useful,” says Carlos Silva. My mission is not to design a specific application 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 advances science and, we hope, leads to conceptual revolutions that can ultimately lead to new technologies.”

“Revolutions are beneficial”

After all, in science, as Carlos Silva says, “revolutions are more beneficial than simple incremental improvements.” Consider the birth of quantum mechanics and general relativity a century ago. “Back then, no one thought about computers, telecommunications and GPS navigation,” he says. Basically, however, all of these inventions come from physics. We therefore see that new knowledge can be transformative and extremely beneficial for everyone. That is what every creative society strives for.”

In his dual role as CERC owner and Director of the Courtois Institute, Carlos Silva aims to conduct research in the public interest and develop his research organization to become a world-class magnet for future talent.

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

He continues: “In addition, the institute is funded by a large private donation [159 M$ de la Fondation Courtois, présidée par l’homme d’affaires québécois Jacques Courtois] with the very specific goal of establishing a culture of creativity in Montreal like that found in the new technology hotspots of Silicon Valley and the Boston region.”

Carlos Silva specifies that the mission of the institute “is not to become a business incubator”. Rather, their mission is to establish internationally recognized cutting-edge activities in basic science that stimulate creativity and ultimately enable a local researcher to win a Nobel Prize. “It’s a bit like what Bell Labs did in the 1960s and 1970s: developing fundamental research that leads to major breakthroughs.”

Materials “made by people”

The research work must be carried out in the laboratories of the Courtois Institute, located in the Sciences Complex on the MIL campus of the UdeM. Carlos Silva’s CERC aims to study “light-matter interactions in photonic materials,” which he explains “are made by humans, while they are synthetic materials ranging from organic form to organic- inorganic hybrid form or even the inorganic form and designed by chemists and scientists. Engineers.”

Carlos Silva came from Mexico and grew up in Venezuela. He had a natural interest in science, an interest that was encouraged from an early age by his family, teachers and mentors. He moved to the United States in the 1990s after receiving a scholarship from the Institute of International Education that enabled him to earn a dual bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics at Luther College in Iowa, and then in physical chemistry there for a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

In 2001, he moved to England as a postdoctoral fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, where he studied with Professor Richard Friend. In the same year he was appointed an Advanced Research Fellow of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom. In 2005, Canada beckoned: Carlos Silva accepted a position at the UdeM as holder of a Canadian research chair and assistant professor of physics. Over the next decade, he “promoted and became a full professor in 2015.” However, the United States again made him an attractive offer, and he recalls: “I went to the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017.”

Today he is back at UdeM, which, thanks to the CERC and his appointment to the Courtois Institute, offers him the opportunity to “make professional and personal progress like never before”. “Montreal is actually the place where I have lived continuously for the longest time,” notes Carlos Silva, who has dual Mexican and Canadian citizenship.

Recruitment for the allocation of professorships

At the Courtois Institute he now wants to “work on recruiting people who will change the situation for us”, i.e. young scientists who are already recognized in their field. “We have the opportunity to recruit people with promising talents and create a research environment that provides a platform for greater creativity, an even higher level of excellence, etc.,” he says. The institute awards six chairs. He holds one as a director. Two were announced at the end of September (awarded to William Witczak-Krempa in Physics and to Mickaël Dollé in Chemistry), while three will be announced “over the next few years.”

In his free time, Carlos Silva frequently travels to Mexico, rides horses (he competed in national competitions when he was young), encourages his son’s passion for lasers and his daughter’s passion for literature and theater, and does crafts at home – “I” ” “I do crafts and I love experimenting” – while he pursues his greatest hobby, cooking, Chinese and Mexican.

Carlos Silva emphasizes: “Sometimes it is good to put aside work, lasers, staffing problems at the institute and grant applications to devote energy to everyday things, and cooking is a good way to achieve this.”

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

About this CERC

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Light-Matter Interactions in Materials

Quantum photonics exploits the unique properties that light has in a precise quantum state to harness cutting-edge technologies such as quantum computing, cryptography and teleportation. These applications involve the generation, manipulation and detection of photons. Understanding how particles interact with their surroundings is crucial for developing scalable quantum photonic materials and determining the quantum state of emitted light.

The Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) work undertaken by Carlos Silva aims to understand and control the quantum dynamics of excited states caused by light in condensed matter and thus determine whether light emission occurs under a quantum or classic regime takes place.

More specifically, they will use laser pulses on the order of a millionth of a billionth of a second to study how quantum information is dispersed due to interactions between the states created by light and their surroundings. Second, the research will involve light in a well-defined, “entangled” quantum state, in addition to measuring the change in the quantum state of light that results from interactions between light and matter. These two parallel approaches will provide a comprehensive understanding of the quantum dynamics required for the development of quantum photonics technologies.

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