Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Physics Pieces (Part 2)

Another exciting week has gone by, and the current week is unrelentless in seeking to outdo the last.

It's just mid-week and already David Weiss from Penn State gave us a summary of the various cold atom experiments going on in his lab - ranging from quantum computing on a 3-d lattice to a quantum version of "Newton's cradle" and a search for the electron dipole moment.

Fiona Burnell, a post-doc in our group, gave an informal presentation on a toy model for fractional topological insulators. Useful ideas to help me navigate the zoo of condensed matter systems out there. She did her PhD at Princeton under Shivaji Sondhi and had started her studies there while I was still there as an undergraduate.

But the real focus of this post was last week.

Alessandro de Silva from ICTP Trieste spoke about quantum quenches, studying the behaviour of systems quickly thrown from an equilibrium state to another via a non-equilibrium process.

Chris Hooley from St Andrews gave an entertaining lecture, based on some initial research into the use of complex temperatures for the thermodynamic partition function. It was useful for me as he spent a lot of time motivating the discussion and talking about quantum critical points.

David Nelson from Harvard gave a very accessible presentation on the packing problem on a curved surface. Very nice simulations and visuals for a practical and mathematical topic, and actually had everyone in the audience looking at a golf ball (the distribution of the dimples on the surface is related to how viruses arrange their capsomeres).

Lev Ioffe from Rutgers talked about quantum coherence, and what I really enjoyed were the introductory graphics with spherical cows and the philosophical idea that if the environment itself is quantum, then how does quantum decoherence set in? So it's like Schrödinger's cats looking at Schrödinger's cats.

With the complement of courses and problem sets, I am slowly but surely progressing on the path of understanding nature better!


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  2. Sounds like you will need to learn a great amount of advanced mathematics as well.