Alexei Vagov: ‘Metamaterials Should Serve People'
The Centre for Quantum Metamaterials is one of the new international laboratories that will be launched at MIEM, HSE University, in 2022. Alexei Vagov, Head of the Centre, speaks about the main areas of the Centre’s research, its team, and future research cooperation.
— What are quantum metamaterials? How do they differ from ordinary materials and compounds?
— There are a large number of different materials and compounds in the world. However, to be able to use them in everyday life, we usually need to improve and modify their properties, for example, by means of physical or chemical processing and nanoengineering. The entire technological evolution of humankind is in fact a series of changes in the way materials are processed. To make a stone axe, we need to hew a piece of stone and then attach it to a handle, while to make an axle for a wagon or steam locomotive, we need to smelt ore, which we then need to forge.
Over the past two decades, technology has advanced to the point where processing takes place in a controlled manner at the level of individual atoms or their configurations.
We can produce metamaterials by combining sequences of atoms of different types. The name comes from the Greek word ‘μετά’, which means ‘beyond.’ Metamaterials have unique properties that cannot be found in any of their component materials
We have known about metamaterials for quite a while. They are created for optical devices and waveguides for radio waves. However, modern technology makes it possible to create structures a few nanometers in size or even less. Quantum effects play a crucial role at these scales. These effects can be either a help or a hindrance, so it is essential to ‘make them our friends.’ To do so, we need to study them and understand how they affect the properties of metamaterials.
— What makes quantum metamaterials interesting for research and in practice? Why do we need to study them?
— Metamaterials produced in this way are not found in nature, and, very importantly, their properties can be adjusted to meet given characteristics. For example, semiconductor ‘quantum dots’ are 2–5 nanometers in size, and their optical properties make them similar to atoms. However, their emission spectra are in a completely different range than those of real atoms. ‘Dots’ can be used to create an ideal source of radiation of a single photon, which is very necessary in quantum informatics.
Another example is arrays of closely spaced superconducting wires with nanometer-length cross sections. Such wires can be made of materials with one type of magnetic properties, but the superconducting magnetic properties of the entire array can be of a kind never found in conventional superconductors. This expands the possibilities for using superconducting elements in nanoelectronics.
Current research in this field is developing very rapidly around the world. This interest in quantum metamaterials at the interface of fundamental science and technology is due to the vast number of opportunities they offer. They have potential applications across the whole range of human activity—from everyday clothes to quantum computing.
— Can you tell us about the Centre’s team? How was it put together? What kind of experience does its staff have in Russia and abroad?
— The scientific cooperation of our Centre's core team began a long time ago. Its main members—Professors François Peeters, Arkady Shanenko, Mihail Croitoru, and myself —have known each other for many years through our joint work both in Russia and at foreign universities. Our scientific interests overlapped back then, and the results of our many years of research are reflected in more than a hundred articles we have written together and presented at dozens of international conferences.
Professor François Peeters is a leading researcher at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and the Academic Supervisor of our Centre. He is an outstanding expert in the field of quantum materials, author of more than a thousand works and monographs, and long-term co-author of Nobel Prize laureates Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. He is a full member of the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences and an elected member of the European Academy of Sciences.
Arkady Shanenko, Chief Research Fellow of the Centre, worked at Professor Peeters’ Laboratory of Condensed Matter Theory at the University of Antwerp. Arkady has been a visiting professor at universities in Hungary and Italy, and worked at the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil) for about seven years.
Professor Mihail Croitoru, the Centre's Leading Research Fellow, received his PhD from the University of Antwerp, has worked at universities in Belgium, Germany, France, and Taiwan, and has also been at the Federal University of Pernambuco for the past four years.
Personally, I have a lot of experience working at different universities and research centres on different continents, including the University of Antwerp, and with Prof. Peeters. I received my PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra, my Habilitation (highest academic qualification) at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, and I have been a Privatdozent at this university for the last ten years. I have participated in and led many national, European, and global research projects.
— How did the idea to create the Centre for Quantum Metamaterials at MIEM come about?
— The idea first came to us when Arkady Shanenko came back from Brazil to Russia and started working at HSE University. We began to think about how we could organize cooperation and decided to create a MIEM-based team to make it a centre of our Russian and international projects.
We analyzed the topics of HSE international laboratories, and to our surprise, there was no laboratory that dealt with modern functional and quantum materials. And so the idea for our association finally took shape. Strange as it may seem, the COVID pandemic helped us with this: remote work further expanded the research topics of all participants, which formed the basis for the creation of the Centre.
— How do you see the Centre's cooperation with other HSE departments and its integration into the university’s educational and research projects?
— In terms of research activities, we plan to cooperate with Professor Konstantin Arutyunov’s Quantum Nanoelectronics Laboratory, Professor Grigory Goltsman’s team, and applied mathematics teams within MIEM. We are also very interested in close collaboration with our colleagues from the Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology and the Faculty of Chemistry.
The Centre will be giving lectures and seminars for MIEM students on subjects that are part of the curriculum. We will be offering new topics for study that are directly related to the problems our Centre deals with
We will be introducing new learning formats based on innovative approaches, such as laboratory work on theoretical subjects.
We certainly want to involve MIEM undergraduate and postgraduate students in our Centre’s national and international projects, and to organize student exchanges with foreign universities using our professional contacts. Students will have the opportunity to complete work placements in Professor Peeters' laboratory at the University of Antwerp.
— What are your short-term research plans? What results are you planning to achieve?
— Our top priority is to make the Centre for Quantum Metamaterials a leading research laboratory that carries out theoretical and computer modeling of modern functional metamaterials.
We will be participating in state-of-the-art coworking that brings together researchers from all continents. We are planning close cooperation with universities in the USA, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Australia, and China. Professor Shanenko is one of the founders of the international scientific network MultiSuper, and we are planning to make our Centre a Russian node of this network, which would greatly facilitate our contacts with other teams working on similar topics.
However, we do not want to focus exclusively on theoretical activities, so we will be cooperating with experimental and engineering teams to develop possible applications and find ways to apply the results of our research. Quantum metamaterials should serve people.
In addition, we will be promoting research and science among students at HSE University and beyond. We will be telling people about our Centre. As researchers, we see this as a guarantee of the high-quality work to be done by our future colleagues who are currently students at HSE University.
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