A combination of unprecedented control and manufacturing techniques allows us to structure and create new (meta-)materials over a large range of scales. This development will vastly increase the range of phenomena that we can understand, including known states of matter under new conditions and behavior of molecules over time in a living person. Even the idea of making synthetic cells or designing new, industrially useful forms of living systems is no longer science fiction. Creating this wealth of new materials, devices and living systems is likely to lead to a bigger revolution than the introduction of plastics. The design of such systems can be used to address major issues in the global societal challenges, such as in energy, health, and sustainability. These systems will also provide major new business opportunities, even with as yet non-existent products in so far non-existent markets.
We are witnessing a revolution in our understanding and control of complex forms of matter. Complex systems (both organic, inorganic, and hybrid) are composed of individual entities (molecules, grains of sand, genes, viruses, cells, individual organisms) that interact with each other and with their environment in non-linear, dynamic ways. These interactions give rise to emergent properties at larger scales in space and/or time through self-organization. Complex systems arise at all scales –from elementary particle properties and interactions, magnetism, genetic and metabolic networks in living systems, to oscillating chemical reactions and self-organizing molecules, to intermediate scales in soft matter such as adaptive materials, colloids and granular media, turbulent multiphase and/or multicomponent flows, to macroscopic and cosmological scales such as turbulence in fluids and plasmas.
A theory of the fundamental physical laws unifying the quantum world of smallest particles to the largest structures of our universe is within reach. New theoretical ideas question the nature of space and time, including quantum black holes and the very early universe. An unprecedented number of connections between theoretical concepts will emerge linking areas of physics that superficially have little in common. For example, the remarkable correspondences between theories of gravitation and quantum field theories will allow us to make quantitative predictions of phenomena in solid-state physics, such as high-temperature super-conductors, which have so far been incalculable.
In technology, the extensive control over quantum superposition and entanglement forms an entirely new resource to be exploited as a novel conceptual basis for technology. New sensors reaching the fundamental limit of quantum sensitivity will be developed for applications such as single photon detection used in medical and space microscopes and for single nuclear spin imaging, i.e. MRI on single atoms.
Large-scale circuits are needed for a quantum computer capable of solving yet-unsolvable problems, notably the simulation of material properties, and also for deepening our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of quantum mechanics. It is expected this new control will allow to entirely suppress decoherence in large quantum systems, implying the ability to keep Schrödinger’s cat forever alive and thus solving what used to be a fundamental problem.
Society urgently demands new technologies to deal with grand societal challenges such as renewable energy, resource efficiency, climate change, scarcity of materials, and health care. The physical and chemical sciences are indispensable for finding solutions to these problems. At the same time these challenges create exciting new business opportunities that are bound to enhance the future economic competitiveness.
The for mentioned developments in science and technology are in a crucial position to contribute to solutions to the grand societal and ecological challenges of the future. There is every reason to be highly ambitious about the future.