The Moore Foundation funds research at the Institut Quantique
Physicists Nicolas Doiron-Leyraud, Louis Taillefer and Sven BadouxPhoto : "Michel Caron"
A research team at the Institut quantique of the Université de Sherbrooke recently made a big dent in the mystery of high-temperature superconductivity. Led by physicist Louis Taillefer and collaborators, this work captured the attention of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which decided to jump in and fund Taillefer’s research for the coming years.
A co-founder of Intel Corporation, Gordon E. Moore is perhaps best known for the law that carries his name. In 1965, Moore postulated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months, a surprisingly accurate prediction that came to be known as Moore’s Law. Since 2000, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. And it just awarded a major grant to fund research at the Institut Quantique at the Université de Sherbrooke.
A major breakthrough
Superconductivity is the capacity of some materials to transport electricity without any loss, a spectacular property with transformative potential in areas as diverse as power transmission, communication, and medicine. In March 2016, Taillefer’s team at the Institut Quantique reported a ground-breaking discovery in Nature, astonishing the physics community. With collaborators at the Laboratoire National de Champs Magnétiques Intenses in Toulouse, France, Taillefer and his team identified a fundamental transformation that operates at the very heart of copper-oxide high-temperature superconductors, a quantum critical point that could explain why these materials are the best known superconductors. A renowned experimental physicist at Cornell University, J.C. Séamus Davis described the results as “technically amazing”, calling the paper “a masterpiece.”
A funding boost
This discovery is the culmination of several years of research performed by Taillefer and colleagues at the frontier of high magnetic fields, low temperatures, and ultra-sensitive detection. The grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation totalling $625 000 US (approx. $825 000 CAN) will enable his group to build on this work and perform a new generation of innovative and promising, yet sometimes risky, related experiments. Covering a three-year period, “this grant will allow me to recruit two postdoctoral scientists, who will explore the new research avenues now open to us”, says Taillefer. “It will also enable us to intensify our studies in high magnetic field laboratories in Europe and the United States”.
The funding is part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s “Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems” (EPIQS) initiative, a 90-million dollar, five-year program aimed at fostering breakthroughs in our understanding of the organizing principles of electrons in quantum materials. Aimed typically at scientists in the US, the EPiQS program has so far funded research at two Canadian institutions – the University of British Columbia and Université de Sherbrooke.
“The EPiQS Initiative promotes discovery of new electronic phenomena in materials by focusing significant funds on a relatively small number of outstanding scientists and research groups”, explains Dusan Pejakovic, program pfficer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “Prof. Taillefer clearly belongs to this elite community, having performed a number of ground-breaking studies that have dramatically increased our understanding of high-temperature superconductivity. I anticipate that the new grant will enable Taillefer’s research team to get a big step closer to deciphering the mechanism of superconductivity in cuprate materials, which is the Holy Grail of condensed matter physics.”
The Moore Foundation is actively collaborating with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). “This research grant to Louis Taillefer, a CIFAR Senior Fellow and Director of our Quantum Materials Program, is richly deserved”, says Alan Bernstein, President & CEO of CIFAR. “Louis’ work is altering our understanding of basic quantum physics and the phenomenon of superconductivity. The grant also further strengthens the important links between CIFAR and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.”