10 September 2019 Rosalie Cyr
Postdoc profile - Mathieu Massicotte

Playing Lego blocks, quantum version

Originally from Drummondville, Mathieu Massicotte travelled a long way to get to Sherbrooke. From labs in Montreal to Barcelona, including an incursion into the world of start-ups, he finally chose to come at the Institut quantique to do a post-doctoral internship. Fascinated by 2D materials such as graphene, Mathieu has set himself the objective of exploring their potential in the field of quantum technologies. To achieve this, he says, “You have to learn to play with Lego blocks the size of an atom”.

From Montreal to Barcelona

First hesitating between engineering and physics, Mathieu decided to choose engineering physics at Polytechnique Montréal, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then went on to complete a master’s degree in physics at McGill University, where he began to study graphene, a material with exceptional physical properties. “And of great beauty!” adds Mathieu, referring to the flakes he synthesizes on copper.

He then moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he completed his PhD in photonics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO). During his thesis, he seeked to understand how graphene and other 2D materials convert the light they absorb into electricity. “This process is extremely fast; it takes only a few picoseconds,” says Mathieu. This work, he hopes, will pave the way for a new generation of ultra-fast photodetectors based on 2D materials.

A passion for two-dimensional design

Mathieu is passionate about everything related to 2D materials. “The exciting thing about these materials is that they can be stacked on top of each other, one atomic layer at a time, to create artificial materials with completely new properties. For the physicist, the design of these heterostructures is similar to playing with Lego blocks, but in a quantum and atomic version. “At this scale, the blocks interact in a complex way and under the right conditions, new properties can emerge,” explains Mathieu, who cites the example of superconductivity in graphene offset by a magic angle. “A heterostructure is more than the sum of its layers,” he concludes.

There is also a very creative aspect to this field. Mathieu sees in 2D materials an interesting connection between art and science, in that the whole family of materials is to the scientist what the color palette is to the painter. The challenge is to arrange them well!

From a practical point of view, setting up the infrastructure to study 2D materials at the Institut quantique and helping to make recent developments and discoveries in the field of 2D materials known to IQ members, while conveying his enthusiasm and vision, are among the challenges Mathieu wishes to overcome. The European Physics Society (EPS-Quantum Electronics and Optics Division) award he recently received in connection with his doctoral thesis reflects his passion for the subject.

An entrepreneurial detour

Once his doctorate was completed, Mathieu decided to explore avenues other than academic research. He is interested in the process of commercializing innovations, that is, “how an invention moves from the laboratory to the marketplace”.  Back in Quebec, he joined the team at TandemLaunch, a start-up business incubator that helps researchers identify promising technologies to launch companies. Alongside his team, Mathieu co-founded Edgehog, a company specializing in anti-reflective solutions for displays and other opto-electronic devices.

A return to the source

After a year working in a start-up company, Mathieu wanted to plunge back into the world of research. Choosing the Université de Sherbrooke was a natural decision for him, considering his love of the Eastern Townships and the countryside, and the very favorable impression that the Institut quantique had left him during his visit. “I had visited the IQ before and was impressed by everything that was happening there: the new projects, the new building, the new teachers, etc. I immediately understood that there was a lot of excitement and potential here.”

For the moment, Mathieu is mainly working on two projects combining 2D materials and quantum technologies. “The first is to use 2D materials to develop a quantum light emitting diode capable of emitting unique photons, while the second uses quantum technology, superconducting resonators, to study 2D materials,” he explains.

As for his future, Mathieu is considering several career options. Although he is still passionate about working in academia, research in small or large companies is still an option. The teaching and popularization of science are also interesting professional paths for this passionate physicist. Finally, depending on his new family life, Mathieu should complete his postdoctoral studies at the Université de Sherbrooke in 2020 or 2021. Have a nice stay with us Mathieu!

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