Even before Galileo confirmed that planets orbit the sun, mathematics played an essential role in understanding the universe. “Every breakthrough in our understanding of physics has been tied to new advances in math and often vice versa,” said Professor of Physics Andy Albrecht.
Recognizing the value of interdisciplinary research, the College of Letters and Science has long embraced collaborative efforts across disciplines. Now, with the Center for Quantum Mathematics and Physics (QMAP), the college is creating an extraordinary environment where mathematicians and physicists will work side-by-side to explore quantum field theory, string theory and quantum gravity.
QMAP has a particular collaborative focus that is unique among the world’s theoretical physics institutes, said Professor of Physics Veronika Hubeny, one of the center’s first faculty. Founded in 2015, QMAP is moving forward with a physical location design that is conducive to creativity and vibrant exchange of ideas. The result will be both groundbreaking scholarship and engaging learning opportunities for students, said Albrecht, who was named director of QMAP in 2017.
For example, take the revolutionary work on particle interactions by Assistant Professor of Physics Jaroslav Trnka. As a doctoral student, Trnka and his advisor discovered a geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions. Trnka found a way to express interactions (called scattering amplitudes) in terms of an amplituhedron, a many-dimensional polygon embedded in a geometrical space. By making the problem of particle interactions mathematical rather than physical, concepts like the amplituhedron could help researchers unify quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general relativity.
QMAP will also host an active visitor program, with seminar series, conferences and public lectures meant to spark new ideas about the nature of space-time. Leading researchers recently converged at UC Davis for QMAP’s first conference, a five-day event exploring new developments in quantum field theory and strings. “QMAP is becoming a rising star among U.S. institutions,” said conference attendee Tadashi Takayanagi, winner of the 2015 New Horizons in Physics Prize and a professor at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics.
— Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science