Quantum Physics

Researching the Quantum World: What our universe is built of

29. November 2022 by Benjamin Furtlehner, Christina Alma Emilian
At the University of Vienna, quantum physicists from different countries, ages and career levels, have one thing in common: Genuinely curious, they try to understand the fundamental building blocks of the universe. In the video, three researchers from the research group Quantum Optics, Quantum Nanophysics and Quantum Information tell us what drives them and take us on a tour of their workplace.
Can we understand the unimaginable? Watch the video to understand what drives quantum physicists!
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Curiosity drives quantum research

"Quantum physics describes things that work on very small scales – like atoms or electrons – but which we do not experience in the macroscopic world that we live in," says Aisling Johnson, postdoc in the group of Markus Aspelmeyer at the Faculty of Physics. "I would say the main driver behind my curiosity is the question why that is – why things in the macroscopic world seem to behave so fundamentally different than things on a quantum level. Basically, I want to find out why the world works like it does."

Carla Richter, master's student in the group of Philip Walther, is fascinated by a similar question, "Until which point can we understand such tiny scales? Up until when can we, as humans, understand the part of nature that is so intrinsically foreign to us, that we cannot even imagine it, even when we try?". Carla Richter first became interested in quantum physics when she read about it in popular science books. "However, at some point reading about quantum physics in books and magazines was not enough, I wanted to understand the subject more deeply instead of merely scraping the surface. I wanted to be able to do the maths behind it and, most importantly, I also wanted to actively contribute to the research myself." 

I want to find out why the world works like it does.
Aisling Johnson

Quantum physics theory and technology

Borivoje Dakić is assistant professor and leads his own research group within the Quantum Optics, Quantum Nanophysics and Quantum Information group at the Faculty of Physics. He conducts cutting edge research on quantum information theory and the foundations of quantum mechanics. Theoretical research is important, even if it does not aim to produce technology, says the young professor, "Theoretical research pushes the boundaries of our human knowledge, so it does not need justification per se". However, that does not mean that theoretical research will not have practical applications, "We know from history that the basic science of today is the technology of the future".  

Experimental Physicist Aisling Johnson agrees, "While the research group is not primarily focused on producing technology, there are often technological byproducts of our research with potential applications in the real world," she says. "So we really are at the edge of theory, experiments and technology, which is very exciting."

The basic science of today is the technology of the future.
Borivoje Dakić

From theory to empirical research

"We have an amazing interaction between different research groups at the University of Vienna," says group leader Borivoje Dakić. "Essentially, every theory that we build in this room is tested in the lab next door. There is amazing knowledge transfer between the researchers at our Faculty and I believe that it is this interconnectedness that poses a unique opportunity for researchers at the University of Vienna."

Aisling Johnson adds, "It is interesting to describe certain phenomena in theory, but unless we observe it in a lab we do not really know whether it is true or not. Therefore, being able to cover the entire process, from building the theory to testing it, all in-house, is really exciting."

© Benjamin Furtlehner
© Benjamin Furtlehner
Aisling Johnson did her PhD at the Université Paris Saclay (France) studying quantum gases. After a first post-doctoral stay at the TU Wien, she joined the group of Markus Aspelmeyer at the University of Vienna in 2020.
© Benjamin Furtlehner
© Benjamin Furtlehner
Borivoje Dakić is assistant professor at the Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna. He is an expert on quantum information theory and foundations of quantum mechanics.
© Benjamin Furtlehner
© Benjamin Furtlehner
Carla Richter is a master's student in the research group of Philip Walther at the Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna.