2016 Nobel Prize in Physics recipient Duncan Haldane discussed the future of quantum mechanics at the 2019 Schultz Prize Lecture on Thursday.
Hosted by the Yale Society of Physics Students, the Schultz Prize Lecture is a recently established tradition in the Yale physics community, with this year’s lecture serving as the second iteration of the event. The series was established last year after the department decided to use budget money previously allotted to cash award prizes to invite speakers to campus.
“Our aim is to invite speakers to give talks at the undergraduate level and encourage communication between distinguished faculty and undergraduates,” said George Iskander ’20, co-president of the Society of Physics Students.
During the lecture, Haldane spoke about quantum physics — the study of nature at the smallest level of energy, including the properties of atoms and subatomic particles. Specifically, he focused on topological quantum matter, which analyzes the spatial arrangement of subatomic particles. He also discussed the forthcoming second quantum revolution, noting that he anticipates progress in this field of quantum mechanics in the future. While these terms are certainly a mouthful, lecture attendee Adela DePavia ’19 noted Haldane’s effort to make the lecture accessible for undergraduates.
Haldane won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of topological phases of matter. He and colleagues found that even matter at the microscopic scale can exhibit specific geometric and spatial properties that were previously thought only to arise at the macroscopic level. This concept, as Haldane explained in the lecture, can be used in a wide variety of applications such as quantum computing to create supercomputers.
Iskander explained that the talks are intended to expose undergraduates to exciting and advanced topics they may not have the opportunity to study in classes. He added that there was interest among the Yale physics community in topological quantum matter.
Beyond his distinction in the physics world, Haldane was chosen to deliver the Schultz Prize lecture because of his engaging lecture style. Shoumik Chowdhury ’21, co-president of the Society of Physics Students, attended a talk that Haldane delivered over the summer and found the lecture extremely interesting. Throughout the talk, Haldane made many comical metaphors that made the audience smile and laugh.
While Haldane’s tone was lighthearted, the hour-long lecture covered a breadth of topics, ranging from the history of physics to the principle of entanglement, a special phenomenon that occurs when quantum particles’ states are codependent.
Physics majors Zoe Aridor ’19 and Julia Wei ’19 agreed that the lecture was engaging at the undergraduate level, adding that these talks are a valuable way for seniors to expand their academic horizons before graduating.
“There’s so much happening in quantum physics that I’m sure we’ll learn many new things, whether in information processing or not,” Haldane said.
Haldane also emphasized the role that serendipity has had in his career.
“In this field, most discoveries are accidental — I was not expecting to discover the topological state. It’s like walking along a path of dirt — if you’re not looking down, you might not realize you passed a huge diamond,” he said.
After the lecture, nine students — including Chowdhury, Iskander and seven others selected by lottery — joined Haldane and the chair of Yale’s physics department Paul Tipton for dinner at ROÌA.
“We had some really good conversations about our own research projects, what Haldane is currently working on, but we also talked a lot about the food, and Haldane cracked a lot of jokes,” Iskander said.
Currently, Haldane serves as the Sherman Fairchild University Professor of Physics at Princeton University.
Jessica Pevner | firstname.lastname@example.org