Millions of years ago our hominin ancestors began turning stones into tools like flakes, axes and hammers, sparking what we now call the “Stone Age.” The Bronze and Iron Ages followed, in which humans pioneered new domains of hunting and warfare using progressively stronger and more effective tools. Steel—a material made from iron, carbon and other elements—went on to play the leading role in the industrial revolution that began in the 18th century, serving as the backbone for a rapidly globalizing civilization. In still more recent years, human ingenuity unlocked additional materials, such as silicon, to create ever more sophisticated computers and telecommunications devices.

Society drastically changed as humans learned to understand and tap into the power of these various materials. But where do we go from here? Recently scientists have recognized the potential to zoom in to the very heart of all matter, to some of the smallest particles that make up everything around us—atoms and electrons. These particles display bizarre quantum properties that, if harnessed for new materials, could create new and efficient devices for transmitting information or for energy generation, transport and storage.

“We call it the Bronze Age and the Stone Age just because they’re large swaths of time through history where this one material has sort of a transformative impact on society,” says Rob Moore, a physicist at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences. Now, he says, is the dawn of the Quantum Age. “In quantum mechanics there are a lot of exotic and exciting properties,” Moore says. “The burning question is how can we actually capture those properties and engineer those properties in new materials to do things in novel ways.”

Join Rob Moore tonight at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario for a glance at this next generation of materials that could lead to revolutionary technology in the coming decades. The talk, “A Material World—Building a Future from the Atoms Up,” is part of Perimeter’s public lecture series and will take place at 7 P.M. Eastern time. Online viewers can participate in the discussion by tweeting to @Perimeter using the #piLIVE hashtag.