An Irish scientist was presented with one of the most prestigious science awards in the world last night (Wednesday 8th March).

Professor Seamus Davis of University College Cork received the American Physical Society’s Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics at a ceremony last night in Las Vegas, an accolade that recognises 25 years of work and his development of quantum microscopes that allow direct atomic scale imaging of quantum matter existing within advanced materials.

Awarded annually since 1953, a total of 18 recipients of the Buckley Prize have also won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the past 70 years.

A global race in the field of quantum computers

A global scientific race in the field of quantum physics is taking place, with advances expected to revolutionise the speed and power of computing, and Prof Davis is pioneering a research programme at UCC and Oxford University in a joint appointment supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

“Scientists have long held theories about our galaxy and beyond – but now we are sending huge telescopes into space which are capturing images which are giving us the proof of what is out there. We are doing something similar, with the inner space of quantum materials,” stated Professor Davis.

Prof. Davis predicts that quantum computing will replace silicon-based semiconductors, and that several technology companies in Ireland are already working in the area.

“Existing technology is going to be replaced by Quantum Information Technology during the 21st century and there's good reason to do that. Quantum computers, at least on paper, should be thousands or millions of times more powerful than silicon-based semiconductor computers. Hundreds of companies are racing to gain leadership in the field of building and selling commercial quantum computers,” he said.

The lab at UCC changing the world

Prof. Davis’ and his team have developed a spectroscopic imaging-scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) at UCC, which is one of just six such machines in the world.

“We're in the basement of the Kane Building at UCC, which is the science building, and this lab used to be a Civil Engineering lab. But UCC very generously rebuilt it for us into an ultralow vibration, high precision lab for a studying quantum materials. That took a couple of years, during COVID, but now it's all built, our instruments are built, and we're ready to go.”

Prof. Davis said the support he has received from UCC and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was instrumental in developing the very specific conditions required for his work.

“This is a world-class ultralow vibration laboratory. There are very few labs like this in the world, just a handful, and so Science Foundation Ireland and UCC were both extremely supportive and generous in doing everything necessary to build this fantastic facility in which we can do world competitive research because of the ultralow vibration capabilities that we have here.”

Congratulating Professor Davis on his award, Professor John F. Cryan, UCC Vice President for Research and Innovation said:

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Professor Davis on receiving this prestigious award. Seamus continues to lead some of the world’s greatest discoveries in quantum physics and this award is a testament of the extraordinary work he does in this area. Building on Seamus’ existing pioneering scientific research in quantum physics, the upcoming recruitment of renowned world leading scientists under the Quantum and Photonics pillar of our UCC Futures Programme will further enhance UCC’s outstanding research in this area.”