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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.
At the turn of the 17
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
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
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.