Quantum theory

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Robert Schoelkopf, Sterling Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale, and director of the Yale Quantum Institute. Schoelkopf describes the origins of the Quantum Institute and the longer history of quantum research at Yale, and he recounts his childhood in Manhattan and then in Chappaqua as the son of art dealers. He describes his early interests in science and tinkering, and his undergraduate education at Princeton where he worked with Steve Boughn and Jeff Kuhn in the gravity group. Schoelkopf discusses his job at the Goddard Space Flight Center before beginning graduate work at Caltech. He describes his research under the direction of Tom Phillips in detector development for astrophysical applications and Josephson junctions, and he explains his ambition to focus on developing devices. Schoelkopf discusses his postdoctoral research at Yale to work with Dan Prober on mesascopic physics, and he explains his involvement in microwave research for quantum information and his explorations into the limits of electrometry. He discusses the opportunities that led to his faculty appointment at Yale, his involvement in building qubits and what this would portend for the future of quantum information. Schoelkopf describes the formative influence of Michel Devoret and Steve Girvin and he explains how these collaborations contributed to upending some aspects of theoretical quantum information. He describes how qubit research has matured over the past twenty years and how this research has contributed to industry and commercial ventures, but why he remains focused on basic science within a university setting. At the end of the interview, Schoelkopf predicts some of the practical contributions that true quantum computing can offer society and why he is excited about the next generation of quantum information scientists.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Mansour Shayegan, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton. Shayegan recounts his family roots in Isfahan, and the political and social dynamics of growing up in Iran. He explains his decision to pursue an undergraduate education in the United States and the opportunities leading to his enrollment at MIT as an undergraduate. He describes his decision to stay at MIT for graduate school and his experiences in the electrical engineering program, where he worked with his advisor Millie Dresselhaus, during the Iranian Revolution. Shayegan describes Dresselhaus’s reputation as the “Queen of Graphite” and he describes the impact of her research on his dissertation on graphite intercalation. He discusses some of the commercial potential of his graduate research and emphasizes his primary interest in basic research and describes his postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland. He explains the origins of his interest in semiconductor physics in collaboration with Bob Park and Dennis Drew, and he describes the events leading to his faculty appointment at Princeton. Shayegan describes the work involved getting his lab and the MBE system set up, and he discusses the excellent culture of collaboration in both the physics and EE programs at Princeton. He explains recent advances in superconductivity research, and he reflects on the success he has enjoyed as a mentor to graduate students over the years. Shayegan expresses his pleasure in teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates, and he explains his long-term interest in research on gallium arsenide. At the end of the interview, Shayegan reflects on his contributions to the field, its intellectual origins in the prediction of Bloch ferromagnetism, and the importance of securing the ongoing support from the National Science Foundation.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Renata Wentzcovitch, professor of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Wentzcovitch recounts her childhood in Brazil, and she describes how her grandfather sparked her interest in science early on. She describes her education at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Physics where she developed an interest in density functional theory. Wentzcovitch discusses her interest in pursuing a graduate degree in the United States, and her decision to attend UC Berkeley and study under the direction of Marvin Cohen. She describes her thesis research on pseudopotential plane-wave codes and super-hard materials such as boron nitride and diamonds. Wentzcovitch explains the impact of High Tc Superconductivity on both her career and the field generally, and she describes her postdoctoral research with joint appointments at Brookhaven and Stony Brook on evolving electronic wavefunctions via classical dynamics. She discusses her subsequent work with Volker Henie at Cambridge to study silicate perovskite, which in turn led to her first faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota. Wentzcovitch describes the importance of Minnesota’s Supercomputing Institute for her research, and she explains how her research focused more centrally on geophysics and the thermo-elasticity of minerals and their aggregates. She describes the founding of the Virtual Laboratory for Earth and Planetary Materials and explains her decision to join the faculty at Columbia and her involvement with VLab and the study of exchange-correlation functionals to address electronic interactions. At the end of the interview, Wentzcovitch discusses her current work on developing codes for thermodynamic computations and seismic tomography, and she conveys the value of pursuing international collaborations to fit her broad and diverse research agenda.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sunil Sinha, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. Sinha describes how he has been able to keep up his research during the COVID pandemic, and he recounts his childhood in Calcutta where he attended Catholic schools and developed his interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at Cambridge where he became interested is quantum mechanics, and he explains his decision to remain there for graduate work to conduct research on neutron scattering under the direction of Gordon Squires. Sinha explains the centrality of neutron scattering to the development of condensed matter physics, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral research at Iowa State. He discusses his work at Ames Lab and Argonne Lab, where he continued to pursue fundamental research on neutron scattering and rare earth materials. Sinha describes his research at Exxon Lab, and the start of the revolution in soft matter physics, and he explains his decision to return to Argonne at the beginning of the Advanced Photon Source project. He discusses his subsequent move to San Diego where he enjoyed a joint appointment with Los Alamos Lab and when he was able to concentrate more fully on teaching after a career spent mostly in laboratory environments. At the end of the interview, Sinha describes his current interest in spin glasses, exchange biases, and jamming theoretical computer simulations, and he explains the reason for the enduring mystery of the mechanism for high-temperature superconductivity. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Mark Trodden, Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Professor of Physics, and Co-Director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. Trodden describes the overlap between astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, and he recounts his working-class upbringing in England. He discusses his undergraduate education at Cambridge, where he focused on mathematics, and he explains his decision to switch to physics for graduate school at Brown, where he worked under the direction of Robert Brandenberger. Trodden describes the impact of the COBE program during this time, and he discusses his work on the microphysics of cosmic strings and topological defects and their effect on baryon asymmetry. He explains his decision to return to Cambridge for his postdoctoral research with Anne Davis and his subsequent postdoctoral appointment at MIT to work with Alan Guth. Trodden discusses his next postdoctoral position at Case Western, which he describes as a tremendously productive period, and he discusses the opportunities that led to his first faculty position at Syracuse. He notes the excellent graduate students he worked with at Syracuse, and he explains what is known and not known with regard to the discovery of the accelerating universe. Trodden describes why the theory of cosmic inflation remains outside the bounds of experimental verification, and he explains the decisions that led to his decision to join the faculty at Penn and his subsequent appointment as chair of the department. He discusses the work that Penn Physics, and STEM in general, needs to do to make diversity and inclusivity more of a top-line agenda, and he describes much of the exciting work his current and former graduate students are involved in. At the end of the interview, Trodden looks to the future and offers ideas on how physicists may ultimately come to understand dark energy and dark matter.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Nai Phuan Ong, professor of physics at Princeton University. Ong describes how he has managed to keep his lab running during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to remote data analysis. He recounts his childhood in Malaysia in a family of ethnic Chinese who had businesses in Penang, and he describes his Catholic schooling and how he became interested in science as a young boy. Ong describes the opportunities leading to his undergraduate education at Columbia, where he pursued a degree in physics. He explains his decision to enroll at Berkeley for graduate school, where he studied under the direction of Alan Portis and worked on developing a microwave technique to perform measurements of the Hall effect without making Hall contacts to the sample. Ong recounts his offer from the University of Southern California to join the physics department first as a postdoctoral researcher and then as a member of the faculty. He explains his decision to move to Princeton and describes some of the difficulties given what he saw as a low point for condensed matter physics in the physics department at Princeton at that time. Ong describes the significance of the prediction and discovery of superfluid helium-3, and he discusses how Phil Anderson introduced him to high-Tc superconductivity. He discusses his research on representing the weak field Hall effect in a geometric fashion, he explains why the cuprate Hall effect remains mysterious, and he describes his more recent work on quantum spin liquids and the Nernst effect. Ong describes the excitement surrounding research in novel ground states of Dirac electrons in graphene, and what the achievement of topological quantum computers would mean for his research. At the end of the interview, Ong explains why graduate students are among the rarest and most precious resources in science, and why he hopes to concentrate on the Karplus-Luttinger theory in the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Andrei Linde, Harald Trap Friis Professor of Physics at Stanford. This discussion continues from the interview with Linde conducted by Alan Lightman in October 1987. He provides a detailed history on his improvement of Alan Guth’s work on inflation, which Linde dubbed “new inflation” and subsequently “chaotic inflation.” Linde describes the impact of Perestroika on Soviet scientists, and the pressures he felt in preparing for a series of talks in Italy, which contributed to his development of “eternal inflation.” He discusses his formative early communication with American physicists including Lenny Susskind and Norman Coleman, he describes his two-year visit at CERN as the Cold War was winding down, and he explains his decision to accept a faculty appointment at Stanford. Linde describes the alternating feelings of hope and despair in the 1980s regarding the possibility that inflation could be observationally verified. He explains the intellectual origins of self-generating fractals that sprout other inflationary universes and the value of compactification theory, and he explains the cultural relevance of his Russian heritage which compels him to value theoretical notions and not treat them in a throwaway manner that capitalism can encourage. Linde explains how and why multiverses can be testable and he reflects on the obvious philosophical or even spiritual implications of this proposition. He discusses the impact of the discovery of the accelerating universe and dark energy and how WMAP strained the theoretical viability of inflation. Linde explains why many string theorists have moved into investigating theories of quantum information, and at the end of the interview, he reflects on the value of competing theories to inflation and why, ultimately, he wants to see a major convergence of theories so that the origins of the universe are well understood. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
February 26 and March 12, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with John Preskill, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, and Director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech. Preskill describes the origins of IQIM as a research pivot from the initial excitement in the 1970s to move beyond Standard Model physics and to understand the origin of electroweak symmetry breaking. He emphasizes the importance of Shor’s algorithm and the significance of bringing Alexei Kitaev into the project. Preskill discusses the support he secured from the NSF and DARPA, and he recounts his childhood in Chicago and his captivation with the Space Race. He describes his undergraduate experience at Princeton and his relationship with Arthur Wightman and John Wheeler. Preskill explains his decision to pursue his thesis research at Harvard with the intention of working with Sidney Coleman, and he explains the circumstances that led to Steve Weinberg becoming his advisor. He discusses the earliest days of particle theorists applying their research to cosmological inquiry, his collaboration with Michael Peskin, and his interest in the connection of topology with particle physics. Preskill describes his research on magnetic monopoles, and the relevance of condensed matter theory for his interests. He explains the opportunities that led to his appointment to the Harvard Society of Fellows and his eventual faculty appointment at Harvard, his thesis work on technicolor, and the excitement surrounding inflation in the early 1980s. Preskill discusses the opportunities that led to his tenure at Caltech and why he started to think seriously about quantum information and questions relating to thermodynamic costs to computing. He explains the meaning of black hole information, the ideas at the foundation of Quantum Supremacy, and he narrates the famous story of the Thorne, Hawking, and Preskill bets. Preskill describes the advances in quantum research which compelled him to add “matter” to the original IQI project which was originally a purely theoretical endeavor. He discusses the fact that end uses for true quantum computing remain open questions, and he surveys IQIM’s developments over the past decade and the strategic partnerships he has pursued across academia, industry, and at the National Labs. Preskill surveys the potential value of quantum computing to help solve major cosmological mysteries, and why his recent students are captivated by machine learning. At the end of the interview, Preskill reflects on his intersecting interests and conveys optimism for future progress in understanding quantum gravity from laboratory experiments using quantum simulators and quantum gravity.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard. Hau recounts her childhood in Denmark and her early interests in science, and she describes her education at the University of Aarhus. She describes her studies in math and physics and her determination to build something meaningful for experimentation. Hau describes her interest in using lasers to cool down atoms during her postdoctoral work at Harvard and at the Rowland Institute, and she describes the opportunities that led to her full-time work at Rowland. She describes her collaboration with Jene Golovchenko and the impact of the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995. Hau details the experiments that initially slowed down and then ultimately stop light in a Bose-Einstein condensate. She explains her decision to join the Harvard faculty and she surveys some of the practical applications of her research. Hau describes her research in nanoscale systems and her interest in applying her research to create more energy efficient systems with the explicit goal of addressing climate change. She describes some of the difficulties and systemic biases that women have to deal with in the sciences, particularly when they achieve prominence. At the end of the interview, Hau explains her interest to promote diversity in physics and particularly to encourage students who are the first in their generation to go to college.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Gerard 't Hooft, University Professor of Physics (Emeritus) at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. 't Hooft considers the possibility that the g-2 muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab is suggestive of new physics, and he reflects broadly on the current shortcomings in our understanding of quantum mechanics and general relativity. 't Hooft recounts his childhood in postwar Holland and the influence of his great uncle, the Nobel Prize winner Frits Zernike and his uncle, the theoretical physicist Nico van Kampen. He describes his undergraduate education at Utrecht University where he got to know Martinus Veltman, with whom he would pursue a graduate degree and ultimately share the Nobel Prize. 't Hooft explains the origins of what would become the Standard Model and the significance of Yang-Mills fields and Ken Wilson’s theory of renormalization. He describes Veltman’s pioneering use of computers to calculate algebraic manipulations and why questions of scaling were able to be raised for the first time. 't Hooft discusses his postdoctoral appointment at CERN, his ideas about grouping Feynman diagrams together, and how he became involved in quantum gravity research and Bose condensation. He explains the value in studying instantons for broader questions in QCD, the significance of Hawking’s work on the black hole information paradox, the holographic principle, and why he has diverged with string theorists. 't Hooft describes being present at the start of supersymmetry, and the growing “buzz” that culminated in winning the Nobel Prize. He describes his overall interest in the past twenty years in thinking more deeply about quantum mechanics and he places the foundational disagreement between Einstein and Bohr in historical context. At the end of the interview, 't Hooft surveys the limitations that prevent us from understanding how to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity and why this will require an understanding of how to relate the set of all integer numbers to phenomena of the universe.