Perimeter launches new initiative to boost numerics
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.
Quantum theory, which explains nature at the atomic and subatomic level, uses discrete microscopic building blocks. General relativity deals with the sweeping continuum of spacetime on large scales.
Scientists hoping to knit the two together into a “theory of everything” are facing vastly different scales. Worse: the numerical tools currently at their disposal cannot bridge the divide between the quantum “discretuum” and the macroscopic “continuum.”
“This is a problem that needs to bridge many scales, which is always difficult in physics,” says Perimeter Institute Faculty member Bianca Dittrich. “Any approach to quantum gravity starts off with a fundamental model. But if you’re asked to show how the model explains the world, there aren’t many tools to do that.”
While many physicists are well versed in the math required, often they aren’t as familiar with the numerical techniques. That’s because, frankly, numerics just isn’t as popular as its friend, analytics.
But Dittrich and Perimeter Distinguished Visiting Research Chair Renate Loll are hoping to change that. Together, they are establishing the From Discretuum to Continuum (D2C) Research Initiative, an effort to bring more people inside the numerics tent.
“Most students don’t want to do numerics,” says Dittrich. “It’s not cool. For me, it was actually the same thing. But I came to a point where I had to solve a problem, and I had to learn it and do it numerically.”
That, she says, is a common story: “It’s always the main problem – you can do so much with good ideas, but many approaches get somehow stuck at this point. It would be good to have better tools.”
The From D2C Initiative aims 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. That would not only help assess the approaches, but also help work out which approaches to pursue and which to exclude.
The first workshop of the initiative is now being planned for late September at Perimeter Institute. Dittrich and Loll are inviting postdoctoral researchers who might be interested in learning and applying new techniques.
“Many people see the problem, but there’s something like a wall in front of them, which is to learn these methods,” Dittrich said. They hope the workshop, and the ongoing research initiative, will be the first step in breaking down that wall.
Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest research hub devoted to theoretical physics. The independent Institute was founded in 1999 to foster breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of our universe, from the smallest particles to the entire cosmos. Research at Perimeter is motivated by the understanding that fundamental science advances human knowledge and catalyzes innovation, and that today’s theoretical physics is tomorrow’s technology. Located in the Region of Waterloo, the not-for-profit Institute is a unique public-private endeavour, including the Governments of Ontario and Canada, that enables cutting-edge research, trains the next generation of scientific pioneers, and shares the power of physics through award-winning educational outreach and public engagement.