Electronic and magnetic materials have captivated the scientific community for decades. In recent years, progress by experimentalists and theorists alike has energized research on materials, ushering in the new field of quantum materials. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems Initiative (EPiQS) adds $95 million for the next six years to support discovery-driven research in this rapidly growing field.
Quantum materials are characterized by pronounced quantum-mechanical effects and a highly cooperative behavior of their constituent electrons. They are fertile ground for the occurrence of emergent phenomena, often unexpected, that challenge and deepen our understanding of complex matter. Exotic properties of this broad class of materials range from transport of electrical current without resistance, to the creation of emergent particles with properties different from any known elementary particle.
“By funding basic research in quantum materials we enable researchers in this field to interrogate materials in superior new ways and ask deeper questions about organizing principles of complex quantum systems,” said Dušan Pejaković, Ph.D., EPiQS program director. “While we focus on fundamental aspects of these fascinating materials, we believe that some of them will find applications in technologies that improve human life or change the way science is done.”
The next phase of EPiQS continues its path to advance knowledge about emergent properties of materials, promote development and sharing of new types of materials, and support development of new instruments and techniques. To achieve these goals, the initiative implements four interrelated strategies:
- People: Maximize the potential of a group of top experimentalists and theorists to make breakthrough discoveries in the field of quantum materials.
- Materials Synthesis: Bolster synthesis and discovery of quantum materials and improve career paths for materials synthesis scientists.
- Flexible Funding: Enhance experimental capabilities at leading research institutions and enable rapid response to new developments in the field.
- Community Building: Create and sustain a collaborative research community to promote the exchange of materials and knowledge.
The foundation’s venture in the field began in 2013 with an initial $90 million in funding, at a time when several major advances, such as discoveries of two-dimensional and topological materials, gave a significant new impetus to an already active discipline of condensed matter physics. The opportunity was clear: accelerate progress in the highly promising field by enabling leading scientists to conduct ambitious, exploratory, high-risk research. In addition, the initiative sought to facilitate integration of previously largely disconnected topics into an integrated research endeavor, with an intention to strengthen cross-pollination of ideas and technical approaches.
During the past five years, EPiQS funding has energized and strengthened the overall research effort in quantum materials. Notably, the initiative’s strong support of materials synthesis and discovery has contributed to improved career prospects for young materials synthesis experts and to the increased availability of new, high-quality materials. Grantees have discovered new emergent electronic phenomena, built instrumentation that provides unique atomic-scale information and proposed new paradigms for understanding complex quantum matter. New topological materials that may improve our energy efficiency, new methods for controlling many-electron systems, and new theories connecting the topological and application-relevant (e.g. electronic, optical, magnetic) properties of materials are examples of their discoveries and illustrative of how taking risks pays off.
Before embarking on a second phase of EPiQS, the foundation commissioned an external evaluation to examine the effectiveness of its approach as well as the impact of its work. Independent evaluators and leading scientists provided their assessments. Their findings substantiated the need to continue support of basic research in quantum materials and credited EPiQS grantees with many significant developments in the field. Details of the assessments and achievements of grantees can be found in two reports.
“Discoveries made by our EPiQS investigators encourage us to double-down on quantum materials. This is a terrific field where giving highly motivated scientists the instruments and support they need has worked out well,” said Robert Kirshner, Ph.D., chief program officer of science. “Based on the expert advice from our evaluation, I’m looking forward to accelerated progress from experiment and from theory in quantum materials.”
The work of the foundation’s Science Program is inspired by its founders, Gordon and Betty Moore. In the Statement of Founders’ Intent, they write that “expanding knowledge is both intellectually satisfying and often of practical value.” They also share their belief that the “rate of expansion of knowledge can be increased by funding potentially high-impact areas that do not fit conventional funding sources.” The EPiQS Initiative is an example of this unique grantmaking approach by taking risks when and where others may not and providing unconstrained funding to scientists for basic research.
“The Moore Foundation’s Science Program is an example of the impact private philanthropy can have in funding basic scientific research,” said Marc Kastner, a science advisory board member of the Moore Foundation and president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance. “The EPiQS Initiative in particular demonstrates that private funding can help accelerate science and produce remarkable outcomes by making focused investments in a well-chosen field.”
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org or follow @MooreFound.