AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume 41, No. 1, Spring 2009

Grant-in-Aid Supports Research in History of Decoherence

In November 2008 Fábio Freitas, a doctoral candidate in the history of physics at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil, received a grant-in-aid from the History Center for research on his dissertation topic: “From Everett to Decoherence: The Multiple Ways of an Interpretation.” The grant helped to fund a research trip to the U.S. where he did oral history interviews and research at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. The following is a brief report on his work:

Our project focuses on the history of the appearance of decoherence as physical effect. As important as decoherence is nowadays in physics, especially related to the burgeoning field of quantum information and the promise of the development of a quantum computer, decoherence has not yet received a comprehensive historical treatment. It has, however, been the focus of several philosophical studies. Within this project, we are trying to understand the diverse historical origins of the earlier studies on open quantum systems, especially those studies which directly influenced the basis of contemporary studies, and its relations with the field of foundations of quantum mechanics.

Supported by a grant-in-aid from the American Institute of Physics’ Center for History of Physics, we performed two oral interviews this winter—with Professor Anthony Leggett, 2003 Nobel Laureate, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. Wojciech Zurek, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. We also used the archival and bibliographical resources of AIP’s Niels Bohr Library & Archives. Other interviews already performed that are being transcribed/revised include Professor Dieter Zeh, emeritus at Heidelberg University, and Professor Amir Caldeira, from State University of Campinas, Brazil.

We are working with oral history along with archival research, which includes John Wheeler’s Papers (American Philosophical Society and University of Texas, Austin), Eugene Wigner’s Papers (Princeton University), Bryce DeWitt’s Papers (University of Austin, TX), and Leon Rosenfeld’s papers (Niels Bohr Institute). We expect not only to understand the multiple historical ways of the appearance of decoherence, but also how the physics environment of the 1970s and 1980s in different countries influenced researchers’ decisions and affected their careers when they decided to work on foundational issues.

This project has grown out of my Master’s degree, which was dedicated to the origins of Hugh Everett’s dissertation. It is being developed as my Ph.D. dissertation project, advised by Professor Olival Freire, Jr., at Federal University of Bahia, which hosts a group on History and Philosophy of the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. In addition to support from the American Institute of Physics and the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin, research of this team has been funded by Brazilian CNPQ, CAPES, and FAPESB. For more info on this project and for a list of publications, go to

Fábio Freitas
Departamento de Física Geral
Universidade Federal da Bahia

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