Christine Muschik has been pondering some of the world’s biggest questions since she was 15 years old and first discovered her passion for physics. Now, her research into high-energy physics has been recognized with the 2019 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in Physics.

Finding a collaborative environment at the Institute for Quantum Computing

Muschik joined the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) in November 2017 as an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Her work centres on quantum simulations for high-energy physics.

"Christine is developing new quantum simulation techniques for high-energy physics, an emerging field that requires diverse expertise from experimental atomic physics to theoretical particle physics and quantum information,” says Kevin Resch, Interim Executive Director, IQC. “Her research is positioned perfectly to thrive in the collaborative research community that we have built at IQC. We are thrilled that Christine's research is being recognized by the prestigious Sloan Fellowship.”

Her research first gained notice in 2016, when Muschik and a team of researchers at the University of Innsbruck, successfully created the first quantum simulation of a simple gauge theory. These theories describe the way particles interact at the most fundamental level. Physics World recognized the work as a top 10 breakthrough that year. The project proved it is possible to use quantum techniques to study particle physics and fundamental forces.

Now Muschik and her group at IQC are working to build quantum simulations of gauge theories, as well as building more complex simulations. She hopes to turn this theory into technology by developing practical simulation concepts that might soon be realized in the lab.

Muschik speaking with students

“We are very proud of Christine’s achievements, including the Sloan Research Fellowship, which recognizes the outstanding promise of early-career researchers in fundamental science,” says Robert Lemieux, dean of science, University of Waterloo. “Basic research is foundational to innovation and Christine’s work will have a transformative impact on quantum communication and quantum simulations.”

Working towards solving physics’ most challenging problems

The field holds the potential to answer questions that have eluded particle theorists for decades. What exactly happened during the Big Bang? Why is there more matter than anti-matter in nature? Why do we exist?

“Our ultimate goal is to shed more light into the area of high-energy physics,” says Muschik. “These questions belong to a subclass of very hard problems that cannot be solved with super computers.”

This line of research has the potential to dramatically advance our understanding of some of the most challenging questions in modern physics. Further down the road, the quantum simulation tools developed in this context will be widely applicable and could even revolutionize simulations in such diverse fields as chemistry, biology, material science and medicine.

“The field is very young, it’s just taking its first baby steps,” says Muschik. “Right now, we are completely busy developing a new type of quantum simulator and not focused yet on answering the grand questions.”

Discovering her passion for physics and ongoing recognition for her work

Muschik discovered her passion for theoretical physics at 15 years old. She joined her high school’s science club where physics piqued her curiosity, and went on to achieve a BSc and PhD Physics from the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany.

Each year, the Alfred P Sloan Fellowship is awarded to 126 early-career scientists and scholars with outstanding promise to become the scientific leaders of the future. Muschik adds this fellowship to a number of other scientific awards and scholarships, including the Feodor Lynen research fellowship for postdoctoral researchers by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2011-2013) and the Emmy Noether Fellowship.

You can learn more about Christine Muschik’s research in NewBit or online.