Particles: Fall/Winter 2015/16

A round-up of news, highlights, visits, and celebrations at Perimeter Institute.

Research on the Road

It’s been a busy fall for Subir Sachdev. He jetted to Australia to receive the Dirac Medal for the Advancement of Theoretical Physics on September 1, then headed to Calgary in October to meet supporters at Cenovus Energy who funded his Perimeter Research Chair.
 
During both visits, the Harvard professor and Cenovus Energy James Clerk Maxwell Chair in Theoretical Physics at Perimeter Institute (Visiting) gave talks about his work on high-temperature superconductors, long-range quantum entanglement, and strange metals.
 
“Amazingly, there are deep connections between the properties of this mundanelooking superconductor and the properties of black holes,” he said during the Dirac Lecture in Sydney. “That’s allowing us to make progress in understanding quantum mechanics on large scales.”
 
Harbir Chhina, Executive Vice-President of Oil Sands Development for Cenovus Energy, praised Sachdev’s research, and encouraged other Canadian companies to support fundamental science. “Our company believes in innovation. We believe in fundamental research. The calibre of people at Perimeter is going to lead to advancements that will change our nation, change our world, and help us understand the universe better.”
 

Max Metlitski Joins Faculty

Condensed matter researcher Max Metlitski joined the Perimeter faculty in October, coming from the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was a postdoctoral research associate. He completed his PhD at Harvard in 2011 under the supervision of Subir Sachdev. Metlitski's work has contributed to the theory of quantum criticality in metals and to the understanding of topological phases in the presence of interactions. In 2014, he won the William L. McMillan Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by a young condensed matter physicist.
 

It's Elementary

Perimeter is expanding and enriching its student outreach efforts, thanks to a new partnership with Ontario’s Ministry of Education (MOE). The Institute will now be able to reach younger grades and more teachers. Funding will support new programs and resources for elementary students, expand the teacher-training network, and add more math and tech content to the resources freely available to the province’s teachers.
 
In the photo above, Education Minister Liz Sandals (centre) celebrates this extra skills-building project with (from left) Katie Williams from the MOE; Perimeter Outreach team members Kevin Reid, Jill Bryant, Damian Pope, Glenn Wagner, Ashley Kozak; and Outreach Director Greg Dick.
 

Perimeter Launches New Research Initiative

Physicists seeking to craft a theory of quantum gravity face a major challenge: the two theories they hope to unite don’t talk to each other. The numerical tools currently at their disposal cannot bridge the divide between the quantum “discretuum” and the macroscopic “continuum.”
 
Perimeter Faculty member Bianca Dittrich and Distinguished Visiting Research Chair Renate Loll are hoping to change this by establishing the From Discretuum to Continuum Research Initiative, in an effort to raise the level of numerical ability among physicists, and to help create a universal tool that can be applied to a number of proposed approaches to quantum gravity. 
 
“You can do so much with good ideas,” Dittrich said, “but many approaches get somehow stuck at this point. It would be good to have better tools.”
 

Setting the Standard

Modern physics will soon become a significant part of the Saskatchewan high school physics curriculum, thanks in part to Perimeter Teacher Network member Karen Kennedy-Allin. As one of the lead writers for the Physics 30 curriculum update, which she presented at the provincial science and math conference, she is now piloting the coursework in her own classroom.


Exploring Quantum Valley and discussing innovation in Canada

Public stakeholders from all levels of government often visit Perimeter Institute and related locations to share news, discuss developments, and stay in touch. Perimeter Board Co-Chair Cosimo Fiorenza (pictured, on left) hosts the Federal Deputy Minister for Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, John Knubley (centre), and the Privy Council Deputy Secretary to Cabinet, Stephen Lucas (right).
 
Other federal visitors included Ken Knox, President of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC).
 
Meanwhile, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca joined researchers, private funders, and other guests at Convergence last June to share words of support from the province. The Ministers brought these greetings from Premier Kathleen Wynne: “Our government looks forward to continuing to work with all of you to attract the next generation of physicists, make breakthroughs, and build on our success for the future." 
 
Ontario Assistant Deputy Minister of Research and Innovation, Bill Mantel, also visited the Institute recently. 
 

IT from Qubit Collaboration

PI Faculty Chair Robert Myers is part of a new global collaboration funded by the Simons Foundation called It from Qubit: Quantum Fields, Gravity, and Information. The four-year collaboration, led by Stanford professor and Perimeter DVRC Patrick Hayden, brings together string theorists, computer scientists, and quantum information specialists with the aim to “use insights from quantum information theory and quantum computing to make progress on the deep question of reconciling the laws of quantum mechanics and of gravitation.”
 

Life meets art for Perimeter researcher

Perimeter Faculty member Lucien Hardy gave theatre audiences a glimpse of physics life “behind the scenes” during a special event at the 2015 Stratford Festival. Three actors – Seana McKenna (centre), Scott Wentworth (centre right), and Tom Rooney (right) – performed a live reading of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, based on a meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. After the reading, Hardy took part in a discussion and Q&A about the life of physicists, moderated by Stratford Festival Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino (left).
 

A World of Universes

Perimeter Director Neil Turok’s book The Universe Within has been published in English, Italian, Korean, and Spanish, with a Japanese version to be released in December. Global editions from left: Canadian, English, Italian, Korean, English (alternate cover), and Spanish.

 


Scholarship supports indigenous researchers

Perimeter offered scholarships to attend Convergence to young researchers who identify as First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Native American, or Alaskan Native. Among the scholarship recipients was Theodore Halnon, a physics and mathematics undergraduate at Penn State University. “It really has been a career-changing and life-changing event,” said Halnon. “Coming to Perimeter, my intentions were to expose myself to new areas of research – and I was extraordinarily successful. I was able to fill a notepad with potential future research topics.”


In Royal Company

Congratulations to Perimeter Science Advisory Committee Chair and DVRC Renate Loll, who was installed as a member of The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in September. She is one of 16 new members, all of whom were nominated by peers from within and outside the Academy.
 
 

Celebrating the Sixth Class of PSI

Last June, in a ceremony filled with laughter and a few tears, 33 students from more than a dozen countries celebrated the completion of this year’s Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) master’s program.
 
At the graduation ceremony, held during Convergence, PSI classmates commemorated an intense year of physics, friendships, and a lot of coffee. “We have all been given the best education possible,” said graduate Sonali Mohapatra during a shared valedictory address with fellow student Tom O'Brien.
 
During his keynote address, cosmologist Paul Steinhardt encouraged the students to apply their energy and tenacity to the toughest questions in the universe. “There is no question in theoretical physics that is beyond your reach,” Steinhardt said. “Follow your heart, not the crowd. When you choose something to work on, it has to be something you strongly believe in your heart to be important.”
 
 

 

 

"Follow your heart, not the crowd."

- Cosmologist Paul Steinhardt's advice to Perimeter Scholars International graduating class.