Convergence Profile: Aitor Lewkowycz

Aitor Lewkowycz (PhD student, Princeton University) is an alumnus of Perimeter Scholars International (class of 2012), and now studies quantum gravity with Juan Maldacena at Princeton University.

PI: Breakthroughs often happen at the broken places. What's the most exciting broken place for you?
AL: Quantum gravity, definitely. We've discovered a lot of exciting connections between gravity, quantum information, and condensed matter – lots of common threads between them. But we don't really understand why those threads are there; we can't map how these connections really work. Perhaps if we could put it together, we would be able to make a proper theory that would explain things in a consistent way. Perhaps we would be able to really quantize gravity. But my hunch is if we solve this, we will solve it in an indirect way. I think the path to quantum gravity will be unexpected.   
PI: Have you ever had a eureka moment? 
AL: Many times, when I'm confused, I go for a run. When you're running you don’t have a pen and paper, so if you want to think, you have to keep everything in your head. When you're trying to make everything consistent in the simplest way – so that it will fit in your head – you can sometimes see what you were missing. I often go running, or swimming, and find that then everything makes sense.  
PI: "I am a physicist because..."
AL: ... when I was 12 or 13, for some reason I decided I wanted to understand what E=mc2 meant. I don't know why I wanted to understand, but I did. I began reading a biography of Einstein, which helped. Then someone gave me Hawking’s book, The Universe in a Nutshell. Hawking was talking about imaginary time, about string theory, about duality – I didn't understand anything, but it was like a fairy tale, like magic that feels true. Those books are really got me into physics. 
And now I am trying to understand string theory, and it is also like a fairy tale. There is so much physics and math that you have to learn before it makes sense, but it has that feeling of being true.  
PI: When historians look back at this moment in science, is there something you think they'll see as obvious, that we are just missing right now, or that this time will be noted for?
AL: This is my bias toward my own field, but to me this emergence of connections between quantum information, entanglement, and gravity – the connections are not obvious now, but if we can formulate this in a proper way, it may end up looking obvious.  

"I think the path to quantum gravity will be unexpected."

- Aitor Lewkowycz