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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
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2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Philip Goyal
University at Albany (SUNY)

Project Title

An Information-Theoretic Approach to Identical Particles in Quantum Theory

Project Summary

In ancient Greece, Democritus theorized that everything in the phenomenal world consists of atoms and void, there being an infinite number of atoms, and kinds of atoms, which differ in shape, and size. The diverse appearances and properties of the things around us is then ultimately due to these atoms clustering in different shapes, arrangements, and positions. In modern physics, our atoms are elementary particles: electrons, quarks, photons, and many others. But are all the electrons in the universe exactly the same as one another? Does it matter? Astonishingly, the answer is yes: unless we treat all electrons as identical, so that it is impossible to tell any two of them apart, our best theory of the microscopic world, quantum theory, gives completely the wrong answer. The mathematical rule through which we express the idea that a set of particles are identical is called the Symmetrization Postulate. Even though we have successfully applied this rule to understand so much of the physical world, we still have no clear explanation of it. The purpose of this Project is use the concept of information to build a bridge between the intuitive idea that particles are identical and the symmetrization postulate.

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