2016 Physics of the Observer mini-grant supports foundational quantum theory research

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Joel WallmanJoel Wallman, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), along with Matthew Pusey from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Lluis Masanes from University College London have been awarded a 2016 Physics of the Observer mini-grant from the Foundation Questions Institute (FQXi) valued at more than $60,000 for their research on observers and observation in quantum theory.

Currently, quantum theory describes the world at the smallest scale. In our everyday lives, however, the laws of quantum mechanics are not apparent and our observations of the world around us are classical in nature. The concept of an observer is not yet well-defined at the fundamental level, but seems necessary to develop new theories to explain the interplay of nature between small and large scales.

Wallman, Pusey and Masanes will examine proposed definitions of an observer in quantum theory and investigate which definitions are sensible in more general theories. “Defining the observer may provide insight into developing new fundamental theories,” said Wallman.

The mini-grant will fund a workshop to bring together theoretical researchers for a short period of time, an approach that allows the investigation of abstract questions often considered higher risk in the research field.

“The purpose of the workshop is to foster collaboration and encourage others to delve into this idea of what it means to be an observer,” said Wallman. “This is a fairly ubiquitous problem in modern physics that we didn’t have in Newtonian physics. We are revisiting older questions with different insights. This is a new and exciting time for quantum foundations research.”

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