Waterloo nabs CFI money for IT research projects

University of Waterloo researchers will be trying to build quantum computers through nanomaterials and changing the way radio systems work thrugh $33.4 million in funding awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation Monday.

The school received the most of the $422 million dispersed between 86 projects from 35 universities, non-profit research groups, colleges, and research hospitals. One of the University of Waterloo’s winning projects centered on astronomy, but the other two were rooted firmly in the information technology field — the first a building for the study of nanotechnologies and quantum computing, the other the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems.

University of Waterloo professor and Institute for Quantum Computing director Raymond Laflamme, a co-lead of the nanotechnology project, said that the CFI’s choice shows vision.

“Once we start to harness the power of the quantum world, there is the potential to change the fabric of the landscape of technology,” he said. Laflamme will handle the quantum computing, while co-lead Tong Leung will manage the nanotechnology side.

“Once you go to (the nano) size, things can be in two places at once. If we use this property, things can be at 0 and 1 at the same time,” said Laflamme. This could change the face of computing, he said, as computers would no longer be slowed down by the binary system’s stodginess.

He has already made some prototypes of these quantum-process devices, and will use the grant money — which will fund a fabrication facility and metrology suite — to develop them. That’s where Leung comes in — he’ll use these types of devices, along with lithographical tools, to develop the tiniest of wires and circuits that are only a handful of nanometers wide, and then use depositional tools to add layers and build chips.

“The centre will have very state-of-the-art tools to make these structures of nanotechnology,” said Leung.

In addition to the possibilities of a non-binary-based computer courtesy of quantum physics, the type of nanotechnology Leung will be studying could have a variety of uses, especially in the biotechnology field.

“For example, instead of being injected with a huge amount of drugs, a smaller amount of magnetized nano-particles would be delivered only to a certain area of the body by putting a strong magnet near the area (post-injection),” Leung said.

This focus on reducing a scattershot effect is also present in another CFI grant recipient. University of Waterloo professor and Ali Safavi-Naeini is the co-lead (along with Amir Khandani, Sujeet Chaudhuri, and Jake Thiessen) of the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems, where he and his team will attempt to make antenna and radio systems smart — and tune in.

“We need intelligent radio, and intelligent radio antenna,” said Safavi-Naeini.

Using microwave radio technology, Safavi-Naeini and his team seek to improve wireless technologies, optical networks, biotechnology, and nanotechnology by changing radio antenna from a passive part of the system to being fully adaptable to changes in the environment.

Aiding him in this will be a test chamber the size of a house, where Safavi-Naeini, using a combination of theoretical testing software and hardware testing, will be able to simulate full radio channel capability. Their goal is to focus the antenna power inwards — the current state of antennas and radio technology sees antennas (on wireless devices like cell phones, laptops, and PDA’s, for instance) putting out a broad pattern to get any signal.

“If there’s a signal coming from the left,” said Safavi-Naeini, “we want to condense the energy to the left.”

This focused approach would net users higher speed, better quality, and more power-efficiency, as well as de-clutter the wireless field of wide-net radio signals.

Safavi-Naeini said, “We want to focus that energy—instead of an 180 degree sector, you’d have a 10 degree sector.”

Their research will also spread out to the study of terahertz, the frequency between megahertz and light, and its potential biomedical and pharmaceutical uses, and integrating radio frequency with photonics, which would see a reduction in use of heavy, slow, and expensive coaxial cable in favour of utilising optical fibers to transmit optical signals.

The CFI awarded the inaugural Leading Edge and New Initiatives grants at the University of Waterloo campus.

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