A piece of dust could ruin everything.
We're suiting up to step inside one of the 'clean rooms' in the new $150m Sydney Nanoscience Hub where a nanoparticle is currently being created.
Here nanoparticles -- particles between 1 and 1000 nanometers in size -- are created and experimented on the see how they move and interact with things such as light photons, with the hope of furthering advances in medicine, computing, energy and yet to be discovered technologies.
The plastic shoe booties, oversize onesie, fabric galoshes, masks and hair nets are all designed to keep stray skin cells and hairs to a minimum.
Experimental physicist David Reilly told The Huffington Post Australia the smallest speck of dust was an order of magnitude larger than matter on the nanoscale.
"We're creating devices that are as small as just a few atoms, if you think about the scale of dust, a skin fleck or something that’s come off your clothes, that would look like a giant air balloon landing on your nanoscale chip," the quantum nanoscience expert said.
As well as the suiting-up process, this lab also has solid cement slabs that connect directly into the bedrock to limit imperceptible movements, lest a laser creating a nanoparticle moved one-billionth of a meter.
Then there's the high-tech diffused air conditioning that keeps the temperature exactly steady, and limits any air flow which, you guessed it, could also impact a nanoparticle.
This is just one lab within the building, where researchers from diverse fields are working with the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology on the very frontier of knowledge.
Reilly and colleagues are working towards new medicine, computing, energy and fundamental breakthroughs in quantum physics to bring about a new era in human knowledge akin to the industrial revolution.
Just don't let any dust in, OK?
Reilly said that while we've known the laws of quantum physics for more than 100 years, and take for granted associated technologies like computes and lasers, there were still a lot of mysteries.
"There’s a whole other chapter associated with quantum physics that we’ve largely ignored, in fact it’s so weird and so strange, we’ve swept that stuff under the carpet," Reilly said.
"It’s now that we’re looking under the carpet, pulling out the really strange and bizarre properties of quantum physics and asking the question: to what extent are these weird properties useful to build new technologies?
"That process is really only just starting to accelerate and take off.
"I think we’re at a very special point in time."
The labs have refrigerators that can bring nano materials down to almost absolute zero.
This is important because as the particle gets cold, it forges a link between our understanding of the world as influential physicist Isssac Newton knew it, and the world Albert Einstein described.
Reilly explains it best:
“Quantum mechanics is our laws of nature that describe, actually, everything,” Reilly said.
“If you really want to see where quantum departs from what we call our classical understanding -- so in some ways, the laws of physics before 100 years ago like electromagnetism, thermodynamics and those types of things -- we call that Newtonian physics, the physics of Newton.
“The physics of Newton and the physics of quantum overlap until you go to certain regimes.
“Going to an extreme of temperature -- making devices extremely cold -- allows us to open that gap between classical Newtonian physics and the physics of Einstein that is quantum mechanics.”
In short, warm particles move about with thermic energy and when they're cooled to near zero, they become still. It's a state Reilly describes as "that pristine, beautiful quantum mechanics state".
"It’s that stuff we want to study, it’s bizarre in nature and to see it, we have to go to the extremes of nature."
When taxi drivers hear what Reilly does, they invariably ask him where they should invest their money.
Surely an experimental physicist who has the likes of Microsoft asking for updates is going to be on top of the Next Big Thing?
He said Australia could well produce an industry of niche nanotechnology businesses, but it needed support.
“Australia is a small country and we can’t be good at everything but quantum science is an area where we are really punching well above our weight,” Reilly said.
“Our standing worldwide, I think, is really up there.
“In terms of the impact you’re going to see in the Australian innovation landscape, the area of quantum technologies and quantum science, I think is going to be one where we will be able to construct an ecosystem around the science that we’re doing.
“So that’s the building of the tools, the training of the people, the establishing of small companies that are able to provide the particular niche components we're going to needed in this revolution and this journey in the next decade.”
So are we on the cusp of a new era?
"Definitely," Reilly said.
"I think that we are at that point in history where the equations on the piece of paper start to develop into devices, components, machines and ultimately technologies that change the world."
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