Perimeter Institute (PI) has signed an agreement with three Australian universities to strengthen collaborative research in quantum foundations. The new partnership, called the Perimeter Institute - Australia Foundations Collaboration (PIAF), unites PI with the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, and Griffith University, in a common effort to get at the heart of quantum mechanics.
The program has created four new postdoctoral training positions, with research fellows spending part of their time in Australia and part of their time at PI. In addition, a scientific exchange program will facilitate a consistent flow of researchers between the partnering institutions. This will be reinforced by a series of workshops and annual conferences bringing together the best and the brightest in the field.
Perimeter Institute Director Neil Turok commented, “Since it is part of PI’s mandate to pursue foundational research, this is a very welcome opportunity, and an eminently logical partnership. Gerard Milburn, who heads the University of Queensland group, and is currently Chair of PI’s Scientific Advisory Committee, has long been a supporter of quantum foundations research and knows well the benefits of this style of thinking for physics more broadly. Similarly, the leaders of the University of Sydney and Griffith University groups, Professors Huw Price and Howard Wiseman, both hold prestigious Federation Fellowships from the Australian Research Council, and are in a unique position to raise the level of quantum foundations’ prestige within Australian science. These are exciting times for quantum foundations, and by joining forces, we will nurture new scientific talent and give fresh impetus to the field.”
Though widely separated geographically, both Canada and Australia have emerged as hubs of scientific activity in quantum foundations and the closely related areas of quantum information and quantum computing. By providing support for new researchers dedicated to the area of quantum foundations, it is hoped that the PIAF partnership will catalyze new discoveries across the board in physics.
Professor Huw Price at the University of Sydney, the largest partner institution on the Australian side, added, "It is a great tribute to PI's vision that it is now leading the resurgence of interest in quantum foundations, and we are very excited to be part of it. The centenaries of the major discoveries in quantum theory are just around the corner, and what better way to mark them than to settle the questions about its significance that so troubled its founders? Richard Feynman once remarked that nobody understands quantum mechanics. I think today he would say that although we know a lot more about the problems, we still haven't found the deep solutions. Thanks to PI, I'm now optimistic that it will happen in time for the birthday parties -- and convinced that PI will play a very big role."
Quantum foundations draws on the complementary techniques of physics and philosophy to analyze tensions in various frameworks of fundamental physics, wherever quantum theory is or might be applied. The field is a forerunner to much of what is now quantum information theory and quantum computing, and has had a substantial impact on fields as far ranging as quantum cosmology, experimental quantum optics, and atomic and molecular physics. Most recently it has had an impact on framing questions for the development of a theory of quantum gravity, the attempt to unify Einsteinian relativity with quantum mechanics.
PI researcher Christopher Fuchs commented, “This is quite an important agreement. I think no one who grew up in the quantum information and computing communities, as I did, can any longer deny the significance of foundational work. Indeed, Professor Milburn, one of the founders of quantum computation, was led to the area in part through his investigations into foundational aspects of quantum theory.”
Productive collaborations between Perimeter and Australian researchers are already underway. PI faculty member Robert Spekkens, for instance, works closely with researchers in Sydney and Brisbane and has recently accepted an appointment as Adjunct Research Fellow in the Centre for Quantum Dynamics at Griffith University in order to facilitate some of these collaborative efforts. Furthermore, the participating institutions have jointly sponsored several successful and well-attended conferences and workshops. Spekkens, who co-organized the recent conference “New Perspectives on the Quantum State,” held at Perimeter in September, noted of the attendees, “It’s evident that the field of quantum foundations is attracting many new researchers, especially young people, who are contributing fresh ideas and making rapid progress.”
Insights from quantum foundations have proved useful and influential in several other areas of physics. These include Bell’s theorem and quantum entanglement, the many-worlds interpretation, dynamical collapse theories, pilot-wave theories, and epistemic and Bayesian approaches to quantum states. The quantum Bayesian approach, for example, has motivated a new representation of quantum states and quantum channels that promises to be a useful tool in the emerging science of quantum computing, at the same time as giving credence to the idea that quantum mechanics should be viewed as not separate from, but an addition to probability theory. In another example, a physical effect known as Hardy’s Paradox, originally discovered by PI faculty member Lucien Hardy, was confirmed experimentally by two independent teams in Japan and Canada earlier this year, prompting widespread excitement in the wider scientific community.
As Perimeter Institute welcomes the laying of the foundation for its new Stephen Hawking Centre, it also welcomes the laying of the foundation for collaborative research on quantum foundations itself.