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14

RESEARCH

QUANTUM FOUNDATIONS

Quantum foundations concerns the conceptual and

mathematical underpinnings of quantum theory. Research

addresses issues such as how quantum theory should be

interpreted, what deeper principles underlie it, and how it might be

modiﬁed. This often involves the search for, and analysis of, novel quantum

effects that illustrate the theory’s peculiar properties. Quantum foundations

research interfaces naturally with quantum information and quantum gravity.

DOES

QUANTUM

THEORY

NEED

TO

BE

THIS

COMPLICATED

?

At the turn of the 17

th

century, physicists faced a phenomenon that seemed counterintuitive,

puzzling, and an affront to established science. German astronomer Johannes Kepler had

observed that planets move in elliptical paths rather than in circles. Furthermore, their speed

varied in ways that deﬁed the contemporaneously understood laws of nature. Kepler developed

revolutionary new laws of planetary motion that seemed to ﬂy in the face of reason, but that

accurately explained important aspects of how the universe worked.

It would take many decades before Isaac Newton reﬁned and expanded on Kepler’s laws to

create a universal law of gravitation. Newton provided deeper understanding of why the planets

move the way they do.

In the 20

th

century, Albert Einstein changed the game again, placing gravity in the context of a

warped spacetime continuum. He enthralled and befuddled the scientiﬁc world and society at

large, but his ideas were ultimately vindicated by experiments.

Over time, Newton’s, Kepler’s, and even Einstein’s once abstruse and revolutionary ideas have

become the stuff of straightforward high school physics. Today, quantum theory is similar to

planetary motion four centuries ago – difﬁcult to understand, a challenge to intuition, and also

the best known theory for predicting the behaviour of atoms, electrons, and a host of other

quantum particles. It has helped scientists develop everything from the transistor to the laser.

But the axioms of quantum theory are mathematical, abstract, and very difﬁcult to reconcile with

everyday experience.

Where do these axioms come from? Why is quantum theory the way it is? How can it make

the journey from complicated, evolving laws into something universal – and more universally

understood?

In the last few years, Perimeter scientists have been trying to develop natural principles from

which the math of quantum theory follows. Postdoctoral Researcher Markus Mueller (along with

collaborator Lluis Masanes), Senior Postdoctoral Fellow Giulio Chiribella (in collaboration with

Mauro D’Ariano and Paulo Perinotti), and Faculty member Lucien Hardy have each developed

separate schemes for such principles.