Max Planck partnership propels UBC quantum materials group to the top of the field

The official partnership between Germany’s Max Planck Society and UBC formalized a long-running exchange of ideas between the world’s foremost quantum physicists and helped propel UBC’s quantum materials research group to the top of the field, culminating in a $66.5-million investment by the Government of Canada in 2015.

The prestige and significant increase in collaborations and exchanges of ideas and personnel enabled by a partnership between the University of British Columbia and the Max Planck Society helped to propel UBC’s quantum materials research group to the top of the field.

The Max Planck–UBC Centre for Quantum Materials provides a forum for interdisciplinary cooperation between physicists, chemists, and materials scientists working in the field of quantum phenomena in complex materials.

Officially established in 2010, the partnership formalized a longstanding collaborative approach between UBC quantum materials researchers led by Prof. George Sawatsky and Max Planck researchers led by Bernhard Keimer based in Dresden and Stuttgart, Germany. The pre-existing collaborations were driven by commonality of scientific interest and complementarity of expertise and infrastructure.

The informal approach had already yielded important research results, major exchanges of highly qualified personnel, and effective sharing of state-of-the-art infrastructure. But relying on individual researchers to fund the exchanges limited the opportunities for collaboration. With the creation of the centre, collaborations were funded by joint resources and expanded beyond existing transatlantic researcher relationships and to researchers without the financial means to engage in such international collaborations.

A central mission of the centre is to establish research opportunities at different stages of the scientific career, with flexible appointments between a few months as a visiting scientist and a few years as a postdoctoral fellow or a PhD student.

The centre also creates new educational opportunities for students, including joint summer and winter schools and undergraduate jobs where students get to know a different scientific culture and environment at an early stage of their careers.

The partnership with Max Planck helped secure a $66.5-million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund in 2015, the largest single investment in a UBC research program. The research group also recently received an $11-million private donation from Stewart Blusson and has been named the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute in his honour.

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