Today’s giant software/internet-based companies only exist because sufficiently high-performing yet low-cost electronic hardware, capable of running their applications, can be manufactured. Today’s established electronic hardware manufacturers grew in turn out of certain key technological breakthroughs that exploited new semiconductor materials and device geometries. It could be argued strongly, for example, that without Henry Theurer’s success (at Bell Labs in the early 1950s) in purifying silicon by means of “float-zone” refining (using steam to remove the most stubborn impurities such as boron), then the whole of the internet revolution that continues to transform our lives would still be a pipe dream. The following sequence is an example: no pure silicon; no field-effect transistor; no CMOS; no very-large-scale integration (VSLI); no Intel; no Microsoft; no Google/Facebook, and so on.
Though the equivalent history book for quantum technologies has yet to be written, analogous logic applies: quantum algorithms can only be run on physical hardware. Notwithstanding the intense competition between wildly different chemistries/platforms as to what the “CMOS of quantum technologies” might turn out to be, all candidates depend critically on the selection and adequate control of materials. Scientists in Imperial’s Department of Materials are engaged in the identification, growth and characterization of new materials and devices for quantum applications. Their work most notably concerns the generation, manipulation and storage of quantum spins in both organic molecules, such as pentacene and copper phthalocyanine, and inorganic crystals, such as nitrogen-vacancy centres in diamond. Beyond fundamental support for quantum information processing, more immediate applications include sensors, masers and spintronic devices.
MASER stands for Microwave Amplification Stimulated Emission of Radiation and it was invented by Charles Townes more than 60 years ago. Why are we interested in the MASER? And how did we solve a 60 year old mystery – making masers work at room temperature and in the earth’s magnetic field? We have a discovered a new design for a maser that overcomes these problems. The performance of this new maser is orders of magnitude better than the best competing technology. The breakthrough means the cost to manufacture and operate masers could be dramatically reduced, paving the way for their widespread integration into telecommunications. When lasers were invented no one knew exactly how they would be used; yet they are now ubiquitous. Already we can foresee additional applications for the re-engineered maser that include more sensitive medical scanners; chemical sensors for remotely detecting explosives; advanced quantum computer components; and better radio astronomy devices for potentially detecting life on other planets. In the near term, the discovery of a room temperature maser solves a real world challenge. It promises better communications that are resilient to the growing problem of noise in our connected infrastructure. We are working on new maser media (organic and inorganic, new microwave cavities, theory, electron paramagnetic resonance and laser physics).
I study strongly correlated quantum systems which may exhibit exotic stares of matter. This includes superfluid, supersolids, quantum Hall effect and topological states of matter.
My group studies room-temperature masers –devices that amplify microwave photons.The basic focus of the group is the development of materials and devices to enable quantum optics to be done at microwave frequencies.