A recently announced provincial partnership has the potential to not only further boost the University of Lethbridge’s first-rate reputation in the field of quantum science research, but also provide spin-off benefits for years to come.

ULethbridge will partner with University of Alberta and University of Calgary in the $25-million Quantum Horizons Alberta initiative. Dr. Saurya Das, who will lead University of Lethbridge work, calls the announcement “outstanding, timely, unique and forward-looking,” and has no doubt it will prove successful on several fronts.

Among the most significant potential benefits of the research project will be the ability to attract quality graduate students, says the ULethbridge physics and astronomy professor.

“Often the revolutionary ideas have come from the younger minds,” says Das, a theoretical physicist, adding mentorship from experienced researchers is crucial, however, to help put matters in context and recognize which ideas might have the greatest potential.

The amount and quality of research conducted at ULethbridge has grown substantially since he came aboard two decades ago. Theoretical research in the field of quantum science by Das and his colleagues is very well-respected within the community and internationally among peers, and he says this initiative should only build upon that.

“It’s like the car is moving, but sometimes you have to put in a little more gas or you lose the momentum,” he says.

The province has become a hub of quantum science research, he says, and word of the Quantum Horizons Alberta project should attract top-notch researchers from around the world. Those high-calibre researchers tend to be good teachers as well, and that is attractive to the best and brightest students.

Once progress becomes evident in the group’s research, further grants should follow. If this research initiative leads to scientific breakthroughs, as Das anticipates, further funding of an even greater magnitude could be realized.

The primary goal of Quantum Horizons Alberta is to try to answer the fundamental questions of nature, he says. Those include: where our universe came from; where it is going; what it’s made up of; and what is going to happen to it five million years from now?

Everyone may not appreciate early breakthroughs in theoretical research, says Das, because it often takes time for practical applications to follow. The Global Positioning System (GPS) used in today’s smartphones wouldn’t work without taking into account Einstein’s special and general theory of relativity, he points out. If history is of any guide, Das can’t think of any fundamental research breakthroughs which didn’t have significant technological implications.

The provincial research initiative should also lead to even greater collaboration among ULethbridge researchers and those in the other two institutions. That’s huge, because without collaboration, progress would be unlikely in his field of work.

“Knowledge put together is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s knowledge sharing; it’s sharing of resources; sometimes sharing of Highly Qualified Personnel (HQP),” Das says.

The fact ULethbridge is a prized partner in the provincial initiative is satisfying for him on multiple levels. On a practical level it means he can continue with what he believes is important work, even though there may not be obvious industrial applications at present. It also means validation for the work he and researchers at the University are conducting.

“You work on something for 25 or 30 years and there’s some good recognition for the whole program. To me that’s a sign you’re going in the right direction,” says Das.

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