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Nathan Harshman

Quantum Wonk


Cred PhD Physics, University of Texas Austin; BS Physics and English, Duke University

Livelihood Associate Professor of Physics; Department Chair of Physics

Interests Quantum information theory, physics education, science outreach, group theory (the mathematics of symmetry), making words like “quantum” and “entanglement” not seem like magic

Focus Research: entanglement in particle interactions; teaching: developing new interdisciplinary class “Bridging the Two Cultures: Science and Literature” with literature professor Richard Sha

Recent Article N.L. Harshman and Kedar Ranade, “Observables can be tailored to change the entanglement of any pure state.” Phys. Rev. A, 2011

Recent Awards Deutscher Academischer Austasch Dienst (DAAD) Visiting Researcher Grant to spend sabbatical at the Institute for Quantum Physics at the University of Ulm, Germany

Hobbies Riding my bike, running marathons, going to community meetings about public transportation and urban density to balance NIMBYs

Last book you read These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Intellectual hero Ludwig Boltzmann

What keeps you up at night? Hidden symmetries

If we can KNOW anything with certainty, what is it? Quantum mechanics says that we can’t know anything with certainty. There is a fundamental indeterminacy to the dynamics of the universe. On top of that, there is ignorance.

In your opinion, what is the universe’s greatest mystery? Whether or not to capitalize “Universe”

How did you develop your expertise? After it was exposed to light for a few milliseconds, I developed it with hydroquinine. And then I fixed it with sodium thiosulphate.

Very slowly. It takes me a long time to master a new technique or to swallow a new abstraction, but once I get it, I’ve got it good.

What’s your advice for aspiring theoretical physicists? Same as my advice for perspiring theoretical physicists. Keep hydrated.

If you could work alongside any scientist, living or dead, who would it be? Any scientist “living or dead”? That sounds like Schrödinger, all right.

How long have they been dead? Dead physicists smell awful after about three days.

Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife. He did his best work in collaboration with her, and her name is on early drafts of some of the four papers from his “Annus Mirabilis” in 1905 when he invented relativity and quantum mechanics. She was a physics graduate student with Albert until she got pregnant with Einstein’s mysterious first child Lieserl (nobody knows what happened to that child).

If you were to write a book of science fiction, what would the title be? In the distant future, maybe I have already written a book of science fiction. When I get to the future, I’ll write back and tell you what it is called.

Are You a Wonk? I am a QWonk. My h-bar is higher than that. (Wonks seek certainty. QWonks seek uncertainty.)

Additional Links
AU Profile
Take the quantum challenge