Researching the Quantum World: What our universe is built of


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.

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."

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."