Big bash in Waterloo for the new Quantum Nano Centre (QNC)

The Quantum Nano Centre (QNC), which was officially opened on Sept. 21, 2012 and mentioned in my Sept. 13, 2012 posting, is enjoying quite the publicity bonanza. Even the architects are getting in on the action as per the Sept. 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Opening ceremonies were held last week in Waterloo for Canada’s new ‘mind space’, the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre (QNC). The massive 26,010-square-metre Centre at the University of Waterloo, designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) is a showcase for Canadian innovation and industry in the fields of quantum computing and nanotechnology – the first of its kind in the world to bring together the two disciplines under one roof.

“Breakthrough science is advancing at dizzying speed today, with quantum physics at atomic and sub-atomic scale”, said Mike Lazaridis, founder of the Centre, “Simultaneously, rapid movement is happening in nanotechnology, where fabrication of materials, devices and systems 100 nanometres or smaller is being explored. This critical nexus of quantum computing and nanotechnology brings the world closer to the cusp of previously unimagined solutions and insights.”

The Quantum Nano Centre was conceptually inspired by the famed Newton Institute in Cambridge, U.K. IQC and Nanotechnology Engineering each occupy their own building and are joined by a six-storey central atrium which acts as an indoor pedestrian route and an informal gathering space. The design organizes ‘mind spaces’ – lounges, offices and meeting rooms – around the edge of the atrium where interdisciplinary interaction can flourish.

KPMB took an Integrated Design Team Approach to the project. As Mitchell Hall, KPMB Design Architect and Principal-in-Charge led the design team said. “We first engaged researchers, both theorists and experimentalists, in deep discussions to understand the ways and patterns of their work. This advance research later provided the groundwork for the development of the interior and exterior of the complex.”

Designed to meet stringent scientific standards – with controls for vibration, temperature fluctuation and electromagnetic radiation – the facility is of the highest international caliber. One of the signature features of the facility is a 929-square-metre cleanroom with fabrication facilities for quantum and nanodevices, as well as an advanced metrology suite, extensive teaching and research laboratories.

The exterior is distinguished by a hexagonal honeycomb lattice of structural steel, a pattern inspired by the stable hexagonal carbon structure of the nanotube. The podium of the building is clad with burnished concrete block to relate to the primarily masonry fabric of the University of Waterloo.

I found an image of the new centre on the Canada Foundation for Innovation website, where that federal government agency also gets in on the party,

Quantum Nano Centre (QNC) in Waterloo, Ontario

Stephen Strauss in his Sept. 20, 2012 article for the Canada Foundation for Innovation suggests,

Take one look at the honeycomb facade of the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo, and you get a sense that the place will be a hive of activity.

Indeed, the 285,000-square-foot facility, which opened September 21, will be buzzing with 50 researchers, more than 100 graduate students and some 500 undergraduates. Together, these bright minds will conduct the kind of research for which the university has already become world famous — such as research that aims to replace the traditional silicon-based computer with a cutting-edge quantum computer.

Although still on the drawing board, quantum computers hold promise as the new frontier of superfast computing power. Quantum computers rely on quantum physics and atomic and subatomic particles to create computing power that is much more advanced than the bits and bytes and semiconductors used in today’s computers. Many physicists and computer scientists believe that quantum computers capable of processing vast amounts of data at extremely high speeds could be developed within the next decade. However, working in the quantum and nano realm is tricky business, so structural stability and temperature control had to be carefully considered in the design of the new Centre.

“You have to design an entire building where one atom won’t accidentally bump into another,” [emphasis mine] says Raymond Laflamme, executive director of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) which, along with the Institute for Nanotechnology and the Nanotechnology Engineering program, is moving into the Centre. This is a mighty task when the distance between atoms is only about 1/50,000th the width of a human hair.

I don’t understand Laflamme’s comment about one atom accidentally bumping into another. Perhaps it will make more sense after reading Laflamme’s Sept. 20, 2012 article about a symphony, Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science, which was premiered in Kitchener (it’s near Waterloo), Ontario in February 2012 and is being remounted for a Sept. 30, 2012 performance in honour of the QNC opening. From Laflamme’s article,

For two evenings last February, the symphony played the concert to sold-out audiences at Kitchener’s Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts.  On September 30 — as part of the grand opening celebrations of the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo — we will host the concert again inside the remarkable new building.

With music, visuals and unique “sound experiments,” the concert gives audiences a guided tour along the parallel paths taken by music and quantum science over the past century. From Mozart to Xenakis — and from Newton to Hawking — the concert explores the many unexpected intersections between music and science.

More than a year of planning went into the concert. KW [Kitchener-Waterloo]  Symphony Music Director Edwin Outwater spent many hours with IQC [Institute for Quantum Computing] researchers and staff, wrapping his head around the concerts. He and IQC communications officer Colin Hunter collaboratively wrote a script for the concert, which is performed during the live concerts by a narrator. During the February performances, I joined Edwin onstage several times to talk about the scientific concepts being expressed through the music.

Creating the concert was a revelatory experience.  Too often, it is assumed that science and art are completely separate spheres of human endeavour, but this just isn’t so.

“There are two kinds of truth,” our narrator said during the concert, quoting novelist Raymond Chandler [known for his fictional detective, Philip Marlow, and for writing the novel, The Big Sleep, amongst many others]. “The truth that lights the way, and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art.”

Science and art share a common goal — to help us understand our universe and ourselves.  Research at IQC aims to provide important new understanding of nature’s building blocks, and devise methods to turn that understanding into technologies beneficial for society.Since founding IQC a decade ago, I have sought ways to bridge science and the arts, with the belief that scientific discovery itself is a source of beauty and inspiration.  Our collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was an example — one of many yet to come — of how science and the arts provide different but complementary insights into our universe and ourselves.

I have included a ‘making of …’ video for this symphony, which is, unfortunately, approximately 18 mins. in length (I don’t usually embed anything much over five minutes),

Neither Laflamme’s article nor the ‘making of …’ video helped me to understand that business of constructing a building where atoms don’t accidentally bump into each other. Perhaps I’ll get lucky and somebody who knows will leave a comment.

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