At a Glance

Founded1987
Renewal dates1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012
Members67
PartnersGordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Disciplines
Condensed matter and quantum physics; atomic, chemical and computational physics; nanomaterials and materials engineering

CIFAR Contact

Lara O’Donnell, Senior Director, Research

How can superconductivity transform our society?

The properties of materials have huge influence on our lives: the electrical conductivity of copper, or the magnetic nature of iron, underpin the functioning of modern technology like computers, satellites, our electrical grid and more.

While our understanding of these material properties has been refined over centuries, there are still surprises for those who know where to look. At extreme conditions — for example, very low temperatures or very high pressures — some materials exhibit properties such as superconductivity  or unusual forms of magnetism. If these strange behaviours can be understood and replicated under less extreme conditions, it could lead to technologies far more advanced than those available today.

 

Our unique approach

CIFAR’s Quantum Materials program began in 1987, the same year that the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of the first high-temperature superconductors. Over three decades, the program has grown to encompass over 60 leading experts from around the world. By bringing together materials fabrication, experimentation and theory, the program creates a synergistic cycle that pushes the field forward in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. Members who are experts in fabrication create ultra-pure samples of exotic materials containing novel combinations of chemical elements. Experimentalists, measure the properties of these materials and determine what causes their odd behaviour. Theorists develop new models to explain what is observed in the experiments. Their theories then often  suggest new experiments and fabrication techniques to try.

Damascelli-in-his-lab2-2012
Senior Fellow Andrea Damascelli uses spectroscopic and x-ray scattering techniques to study the low-energy electronic structure of quantum materials

Why this matters

Most hospitals in the developed world have access to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. These devices use superconductors — cooled with liquid helium — to create powerful magnetic fields that excite certain atoms within living tissue. MRI is one of the best non-invasive tools for seeing inside the body, eliminating the complications often attached to surgery or x-ray radiation. Each year, hundreds of thousands of patients receive more accurate diagnoses thanks to MRI. In Japan, magnetically levitated (maglev) trains use superconductors to reach speeds higher than 500 kilometres per hour. Superconductors are also used in the Large Hadron Collider and in other detectors designed to look for exotic particles that help us understand our universe. Some scientists have also proposed using superconductors to create devices that could store energy when it’s cheaper — e.g. at night — and release it when it’s needed. Yet all current and future uses of superconductors suffer from a similar drawback; the high expense and energy requirements of cooling. Better superconductors that work at higher temperatures could greatly reduce the cost of today’s most advanced technologies and usher in new ones, such as power grids that work at 100 per cent efficiency, with the potential to revolutionize the technological platforms on which our society is based.  

In depth

While it maintains its original focus on making world-leading advances in superconductivity, the Quantum Materials program has expanded to include research on a wide range of phenomena including new states of matter, unusual forms of magnetism and more.

Superconductivity Quantum Materials team members have made important progress in this field particularly in understanding why superconductivity is confined to low temperatures. A critical piece of the puzzle fell into place in 2007, when a CIFAR-supported team finally mapped the Fermi surface of a well-known copper-based superconductor and discovered it to be made of small pockets. The unexpected discovery caused a paradigm shift in how scientists thought about the nature of electron behaviour in these materials. It led directly to the recognition of the critical role played by charge density waves — a type of electrical instability, also known as charge ordering ― in suppressing superconductivity. The advances made in this field provide a great example of CIFAR’s model in action. Senior Fellows Doug Bonn, Walter N. Hardy and Ruixing Liang are among the best in the world at  growering crystals of high-temperature oxide superconductors. Their samples are used by researchers like Program Director and Senior Fellow Louis Taillefer, Senior Fellow Andrea Damascelli, Associate Fellow Cyril Proust and many others. Theorists like Senior Fellow Hae-Young Kee and Associate Fellows Subir Sachdev and Andrew Millis develop models to explain these observations and suggest new experiments that could be tried.  

Crystal-Revised-Shot
Crystals like these produced in Senior Fellow Bruce Gaulin’s Growth Crystal Lab at McMaster University are used to studyphenomena such as high-temperature superconductivity. Credit: Thomas Van Ryzewk

Cold atoms

Atoms cooled to very low temperatures can become strongly correlated with each other. These systems, in which quantum effects have a big impact, have analogies to the ways electrons move in superconductors. For example, Fellow Joseph Thywissen recently used such a system to look at the demagnetization of an ultracold gas. Measuring the quantum dynamics of strongly interacting ultracold gases can not only offer insight into superconductivity, but also into the exotic states of matter found in neutron stars and other inaccessible places.

Designing new materials

Many members of the QM group focus on designing and building new materials that have unusual quantum properties. Using techniques that deposit individual molecules onto surfaces, researchers can build up materials made of alternating layers that are as little as one atom thick.

 In 2004, Associate Fellow Harold Hwang and his team discovered to their surprise that the interface between two non-conducting oxides behaved like a conductive metal. The discovery generated a flurry of new research, including some that showed such interfaces could behave as superconductors. This remains an active area of study to this day.

Quantum phase transitions When water freezes or ice melts, we say that the material undergoes a physical phase transition. In a similar way, materials can change from one quantum state to another when subjected to increasingly strong magnetic fields. The driving force behind these phase transitions is quantum fluctuations that exist even at absolute zero.  A recent three-way CIFAR collaboration among Fellow Takashi Imai, Associate Fellow Subir Sachdev and Fellow Graeme Luke showed that these quantum fluctuations persist even at temperatures up to a few dozen degrees above absolute zero. A better understanding of quantum phase transitions could help develop new theories to explain how high-temperature superconductors work.  

Selected Papers

Ohtomo, A. Hwang, H.Y. (2004) A high-mobility electron gas at the LaAlO3/SrTiO3 heterointerface. Nature 427: 423-426 Doiron-Leyraud, N., Proust, C., LeBoeuf, D., Levallois, J., Bonnemaison, J., Liang, R., Bonn, D.A., Hardy, W.N., Taillefer, L. (2007) Quantum oscillations and the Fermi surface in an underdoped high-Tc superconductor. Nature 447: 565-568 D. Dalidovich et al., “Spin structure factor of the frustrated quantum magnet Cs2CuCl4,” Physical Review B 73, 18 (2006) doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.73.184403. D. LeBoeuf et al., “Electron pockets in the Fermi surface of hole-doped high-Tc superconductors,” Nature 450 (2007): 533-536 doi:10.1038/nature06332. R. Daou et al., “Broken rotational symmetry in the pseudogap phase of a high-Tc superconductor,” Nature 463 (2010): 519-522 doi:10.1038/nature08716. R. Comin et al., “Charge Order Driven by Fermi-Arc Instability in Bi2Sr2−xLaxCuO6+δ,” Science 343, 6169 (2014): 390-392 doi: 10.1126/science.1242996.

Contact the program’s senior director, Lara O’Donnell at lara.odonnell@cifar.ca

READ 2016’s ANNUAL UPDATE 

 

Fellows & Advisors

Photo of Louis Taillefer

Louis Taillefer

Program Director

Louis Taillefer investigates why some materials exhibit remarkable electronic properties, such as magnetism and superconductivity. In the last decade, he has specialized in superconductors, materials that conduct electricity without any…

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Fellows

Ian Affleck

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Yoichi Ando

Associate Fellow

University of Cologne

Germany

Leon Balents

Associate Fellow

University of California, Santa Barbara

United States

Alexandre Blais

Fellow

Université de Sherbrooke

Canada

Immanuel F. Bloch

Associate Fellow

Ludwig-Maximilians University, Max-Planck-Institute for Quantum Optics

Germany

Doug Bonn

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Collin Broholm

Associate Fellow

The Johns Hopkins University

United States

David Broun

Fellow

Simon Fraser University

Canada

Raffi Budakian

Senior Fellow

University of Waterloo

Canada

Jules P. Carbotte

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Robert Cava

Associate Fellow

Princeton University

United States

Andrea Damascelli

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Eugene A. Demler

Associate Fellow

Harvard University

United States

Steve Dodge

Associate Fellow

Simon Fraser University

Canada

Ian Fisher

Associate Fellow

Stanford University

United States

Joshua Folk

Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Patrick Fournier

Fellow

Université de Sherbrooke

Canada

Marcel Franz

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Bruce D. Gaulin

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Guillaume Gervais

Fellow

McGill University

Canada

Michel J. P. Gingras

Senior Fellow

University of Waterloo

Canada

David G. Hawthorn

Fellow

University of Waterloo

Canada

Jennifer Hoffman

Associate Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Randall G. Hulet

Associate Fellow

Rice University

United States

Harold Y. Hwang

Associate Fellow

Stanford University

United States

Takashi Imai

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Stephen R. Julian

Senior Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Catherine Kallin

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Hae-Young Kee

Senior Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Bernhard Keimer

Associate Fellow

Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research

Germany

Yong Baek Kim

Senior Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Steven Kivelson

Associate Fellow

Stanford University

United States

Gabriel Kotliar

Associate Fellow

Rutgers University

United States

Karyn Le Hur

Senior Fellow

École Polytechnique and CNRS

France

Lindsay J. LeBlanc

Fellow

University of Alberta

Canada

Ruixing Liang

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Gilbert Lonzarich

Associate Fellow

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

Graeme Luke

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Joseph Maciejko

Fellow

University of Alberta

Canada

Yoshiteru Maeno

Associate Fellow

Kyoto University

Japan

Andrew Millis

Associate Fellow

Columbia University

United States

Kathryn A. Moler

Associate Fellow

Stanford University

United States

Johnpierre Paglione

Associate Fellow

University of Maryland

United States

Arun Paramekanti

Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Cedomir Petrovic

Associate Fellow

Brookhaven National Laboratory

United States

Cyril Proust

Associate Fellow

Laboratoire National des Champs Magnétiques Intenses

France

Subir Sachdev

Associate Fellow

Harvard University

United States

George A. Sawatzky

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Douglas Scalapino

Associate Fellow

University of California, Santa Barbara

United States

Jeff E. Sonier

Associate Fellow

Simon Fraser University

Canada

Joseph H. Thywissen

Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Thomas Timusk

Senior Fellow

McMaster University

Canada

Senthil Todadri

Associate Fellow

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States

André-Marie Tremblay

Senior Fellow

Université de Sherbrooke

Canada

John Y. T. Wei

Associate Fellow

University of Toronto

Canada

Hai-Hu Wen

Associate Fellow

Chinese Academy of Sciences

China

Christopher Wiebe

Fellow

University of Winnipeg

Canada

Fei Zhou

Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

Advisors

J.C. Séamus Davis

Advisory Committee Chair

Cornell University

United States

Antoine Georges

Advisor

École Polytechnique

France

Richard L. Greene

Advisor

University of Maryland

United States

Andrew Peter Mackenzie

Advisor

Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids

Germany

Jochen Mannhart

Advisor

Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research

Germany

Hidenori Takagi

Advisor

Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research

Germany

Global Scholars

Kate A. Ross

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar

Colorado State University

United states

Luyi Yang

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar

University of Toronto

Canada

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