Top scientist returning to UCC to lead study

Seamus Davis aims to lead research on the technology that is due to replace the silicon chips in computing. Picture: Clare Keogh

A revolution in delivering the next generation of high-speed electronic devices is to be led by the return to University College Cork of one of the world’s leading quantum mechanics scientists.

Seamus Davis is to lead a joint research programme at UCC and Oxford University in England on the quantum technology that is due to replace the silicon chips as the power behind computing.

A 1983 physics graduate of UCC, he has been working in the US for most of his career and was professor of physical sciences at Cornell University in New York for the past decade.

While the quantum mechanical properties of materials like silicon are crucial to the operation of computers and smartphones, advances in the technology of quantum mechanics is expected to drive advances in faster, more capable devices.

Prof Davis, a native of Skibbereen in West Cork, said he looks forward to returning home and working with colleagues at UCC.

“The rapidly-accelerating second quantum revolution promises truly transformative advances in science, industry, economy, and society,” he said. “In Ireland, a spectacularly sophisticated research ecosystem has been nurtured and has rapidly grown.”

It was already announced three weeks ago that Prof Davis will be joining the quantum materials group at Oxford in January, under a European Research Council advanced grant award. It is understood that, while he will be officially based in Cork, his time will be divided between UCC and Oxford.

UCC did not state how much Prof Davis would be paid, or how his remuneration might be shared between the university and Oxford. However, it told the Irish Examiner that “it is not outside the Government-approved pay rates”.

The role is being funded by a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research professorship programme, one of 10 posts approved for the higher education sector under the programme. UCC said it has also been approved by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), Department of Education, and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

As limits in the computing power of the silicon generation technology are reached, the big focus is on quantum mechanics, which deals with the behaviour of matter at atomic and sub-atomic scales, and how matter interacts with energy at these levels.

The focus of the research programme at UCC’s physics department will be on an atomic-scale, as Prof Davis works with researchers at existing SFI centres such as the Irish Photonics Integration Centre at the Tyndall National Institute. The joint research programme at UCC and Oxford will also benefit the training and experience of early-career researchers here.

SFI director general Mark Ferguson said the joint appointment of Prof Davis will have a positive impact on scientific research here and further enhance Ireland’s international reputation for excellence in research and innovation.

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