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Sam Harris wins the 2018 Huawei Prize for Best Research Paper by a Mathematics Graduate Student

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pure Mathematics PhD student Sam Harris won the 2018 Huawei Prize for Best Research Paper by a Mathematics Graduate Student. This award recognizes the impact of his paper Connes’ embedding conjecture and winning strategies for quantum XOR games with a prize of $4,000.

Sam Harris and Bill Zhang

Sam Harris with Bill Zhang, Director, Huawei Waterloo Research Centre

His work involves Connes’ embedding conjecture - an open question that is part of the classification and study of a certain family of operator algebras argued to be the proper models for the observables of quantum mechanical systems. Harris’ paper connects this conjecture to an open problem about the nature of quantum entanglement by using quantum XOR games.

Sam’s work studied quantum XOR games, a new family of games through which researchers study entanglement, from the perspective of operational algebras. Before his paper, it was known in quantum mechanics that if Connes’ embedding conjecture was true the two models for entangled states would have the same value for every game. As such, the quantum tensor and quantum commuting values would not be discernable. But the converse of this statement remained an open problem.

His paper proves that quantum tensor and quantum computing values of quantum XOR games are equal (in finite input and output) for every game if and only if Connes’ embedding conjecture is true. The research brings together the separate works of operator algebraists and computer scientists to solve deep problems. 

Aside from the sophisticated theory of this work, the submission lifecycle of the paper was astonishing. Typically researchers wait one to two years for publication after submitting a paper to a journal, and often with multiple revisions. The Journal of Mathematical Physics accepted Harris’ paper without revision and it featured in the very next issue of the journal. Vern Paulsen, his supervisor, attributes this feat to the importance and timeliness of the paper.

The 2018 Huawei Prize for Best Research Paper by a Mathematics Graduate Student would not be possible without the generous support from Huawei. Huawei is a leading global information and communications technology solutions provider that has partnered with the University of Waterloo to advance world-class research and innovation.