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Research in quantum mechanics is like a journey of discovery into the future

New quantum technologies have the potential to reshape our entire society. At the centre for basic research POLIMA, researchers are particularly curious about interactions between light and matter, as these could potentially form the whole basis of the quantum technologies of the future

By Sune Holst, , 1/1/0001

Quantum mechanics doesn’t have much in common with jazz. Then again, maybe it does. Because just as jazz seems demanding and complex to someone who doesn’t play it, so does quantum mechanics.  

And while jazz, with its intense, expressionistic techniques, expands the sonorous and rhythmic means of music, quantum mechanics broadens our understanding of how the world is built.  

In the jazz documentary ‘Music for Black Pigeons’, saxophonist Mark Turner is asked about what he’s looking for in music. 

‘I'm not looking for anything specific, but I want to discover something new,’ he replies.

In POLIMA, we dream of discovering new phenomena that we do not yet know the contours of 

N. Asger Mortensen, professor

And now we have come to the reason for this jazz prelude to an article on quantum mechanics.

For although Head of POLIMA, Professor N. Asger Mortensen, isn't a distinctive jazz cat with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and holding a glass of Scotch, he’s driven by the same thing as Mark Turner: The hunt for the unknown.  

- In POLIMA, we dream of discovering new phenomena that we do not yet know the contours of, says Professor N. Asger Mortensen. 

The centre for basic research is particularly concerned with the exploration of light-matter interactions under new extreme conditions, as it gives the researchers the opportunity to explore new quantum aspects of light, materials and their interconnectedness.

These findings could potentially lead to new quantum technologies for the benefit of our society. 

Dreaming of blazing a new trail for technology 

According to N. Asger Mortensen, previous experience has shown that this field of research is an area that generates new technological opportunities.  

That is why he is also convinced that this basic scientific endeavour represented by the establishment of POLIMA is essential for us as a society to maintain the momentum that enables us to dream of new technological achievements and breakthroughs that can continuously improve and develop our society. 

- The exploration of light-matter interactions under new extreme conditions holds out every promise to also discover and understand new phenomena and conditions which can only be provided by constantly advancing the limits of our experimental and theoretical knowledge, he says, continuing: 

- It’s a bit like being an explorer, and it’s a huge privilege – but also a great responsibility – to have been given this opportunity by society. There’s an accompanying commitment to constantly being curious, but it’s also hugely motivating.

Learn more about the research at POLIMA

Can you describe what POLIMA is researching?

- POLIMA is a centre for basic research where we are curious about how light interacts with so-called polaritons in, for example, atom-thin two-dimensional materials or in metallic nanostructures.

- Put simply, polaritons are half-light-half-matter oscillations that can be estimated when light interacts strongly with, for example, charge fluctuations in electrically conducting materials (so-called plasmon polaritons), lattice oscillations in materials (phonon polaritons), or bonded pairs of electrons and missing electrons in a semiconductor (so-called exciton polaritons)

Why is it important to understand how light interacts with materials in absolutely extreme situations?

- This type of curiosity-fuelled research is important for us to constantly expand our fundamental realisations of how light interacts with materials/matter. By studying light-matter interactions under extreme conditions, such as atom-thin materials, we gain new opportunities to explore and discover new quantum aspects of both light, materials and their interconnectedness.

- It is important to continually expand our realisation horizons and it is potentially foundational for new technologies in the quantum field, where light-matter interactions are crucial for optically-based quantum information processing and optical communications technology.

- These elements play a pivotal role in the implementation of quantum computer technology in our society. POLIMA is thus a unique opportunity for both the curiosity-driven research in this area, but it is also a platform for education and for talent training of engineers, physicists and young researchers of the future in the quantum field.

What can controlling individual light particles be used for?

- The extreme control of polaritons and light-matter interactions allows us, among other things, to generate and manipulate individual photons/light particles. Unlike classical light fields that may contain thousands of photons, the individual photon itself is a quantum mechanical object that exhibits quantum mechanical effects. So when working with individual photons, we are using quantum optics.

- In the polariton context, both light and matter are being quantised. The ability to create and manipulate single light particles is key to light-based quantum information processing and quantum encrypted optical communication technology, but also accommodates potential sensor aspects.

When discussing quantum technology, new technologies such as quantum computers, quantum cryptography and quantum sensors are mentioned. How mature are these technologies? Do they already exist? Or how far into the future will these things become an integral part of our everyday lives?

- There is great optimism in the quantum computer circles, where the most optimistic actors have given the impression of a five-year time scale.

- I probably belong to the wait-and-see group of researchers who also take into consideration how long it has taken for other technologies to revolutionise our society. Just look at the transistor, laser and fibre optics – it easily takes 20-30 years.

Meet the researcher

N. Asger Morten is Professor, Villum Investigator, Dr. Scient. & Dr. Techn. Chair, Center for Polariton-driven Light-Matter Interactions (POLIMA) VIP, Danish Institute for Advanced Study, at SDU.



  • POLIMA is a centre for basic research that was recently established with an external grant of DKK 60 million from the Danish National Research Foundation.
  • The Centre is led by Asger, who has six colleagues, all of whom are leading experts in different aspects of light and materials – both theoretically and experimentally.
  • The Centre continuously offers a handful of challenging exam projects (BSc/MSc students in Physics or Physics & Technology) and employs approximately 10 PhD students and postdocs, while funding is available to train at least another 14 young research talents within the next six years.
  • International visiting scholars are also an integral part of POLIMA. 
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