Electrical conductors and insulators are at the basis of our current society, as they carry and store both energy and information. The conducting or insulating nature of materials is based on various separate ingredients of quantum nature, e.g. interactions, dimensionality, topology, disorder, etc. However, the complex interplay of such ingredients is in many cases still beyond our understanding. Notable examples are strongly-correlated superconductors and interacting topological materials. The reasons are that experiments on real materials aiming at separating the various ingredients are very difficult, and even that numerical simulations are inefficient, even for supercomputers.

With QUIC we aimed at a breakthrough in the understanding of the fundamental quantum mechanisms governing insulators and conductors by using quantum simulators, i.e. quantum computers of special purpose, based on fully controllable ultracold atomic gases. In an experiment-theory enterprise, we have engineered several different kinds of such synthetic quantum insulators and conductors, in which the various quantum ingredients are well known and can be controlled separately. Although in such neutral atomic systems the it is the mass and not the charge to be transported, they are governed by the same quantum laws of electrical conductors.

In QUIC we studied materials, and related devices, that already exist in nature, such as disordered conductors or topological insulators. We studied also materials that do not exist in nature, but are very appealing for their special quantum properties, such as supersolids. See the Highlights section for some examples of our results.




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