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Previous Programs

2016 Physics of the Observer
2016 Awardees

2015 The Physics of What Happens
2015 Awardees

2013 Physics of Information
2013 Awardees

2010 The Nature of Time
2010 Awardees

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2008 Awardees

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2006 Awardees

Dr. Subir Sachdev
Harvard University

Project Title

Quantum Criticality and Black Holes

Project Summary

This project explores a new connection between two seemingly disconnected fields of physics. One field studies the electrical and thermal properties of crystals of technologically important materials that are being measured in laboratories around the world. Their properties are determined by the motion of electrons in the crystal, which are controlled by the principles of quantum mechanics. Often the electrons exhibit new phases of collective behavior, and the transitions between these phases have led to especially difficult problems in quantum theory. The second field uses Einstein's theory of gravity to understand very heavy stars known as black holes. Recent developments in string theory have led to an improvement in our understanding of the quantum theory of black holes. More stunningly, these developments have shown that this quantum theory of black holes is closely connected to the theory of the quantum phase transitions of electrons in crystals. Importantly, easy questions in one field usually map to difficult questions in the other. This complementary relationship will surely lead to new insights in both fields. The history of physics is replete with examples of foundational insights discovered by paying attention to seemingly mundane experimental facts, and we hope to continue that tradition.



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