Simulating the Strange World of Quantum Materials
Some of the fundamental particles that make up matter in our universe, like electrons, are common. Others particles, like the Higgs boson, are rare and only exist inside high-energy particle accelerators. And then there are fractional particles (consisting of half of the electron charge) that are mere figments of the imagination—at least in our universe.
However, other artificial universes can be built where such exotic particles can exist. These particles move around in the background in what is known as “strange vacuum” states, which differ from familiar empty spaces. Remarkably, these strange vacuum states may be created in real materials when cooled to temperatures near absolute zero—about -273 C. Here, the existence of exotic particles is a consequence of the rules of quantum mechanics when applied to matter on a large scale.
Dr. Roger Melko, Canada Research Chair in Computational Quantum Many-Body Physics, is making sense of this strange quantum world. With the help of massive supercomputers on which he has built sophisticated models of real materials, Melko is tackling the task of solving quantum equations of motion. These models can simulate the strange vacuum states that harbour phenomena such as exotic particles and allow their behaviour to be studied in great detail.
Melko’s simulations employ a new set of tools related to a quantum mechanical property known as entanglement, a way to study the strange behaviour of matter at low temperatures. His research aims to develop a new classification scheme for matter that is based on quantum mechanical entanglement.
Melko’s research could lead to new ways to engineer materials and information systems, such as magnetic media, superconductor technology, or quantum computers.