This award funds the research activities of Professor Vatche Sahakian at Harvey Mudd College.
One of the great unsolved problems in modern physics is the fusing of two of the pillars of modern physics, namely quantum mechanics (the physics of the very small) and general relativity (the physics of gravity). Thus far, the best candidate theory for accomplishing this fusion is string theory. Professor Sahakian's research explores several key areas in string theory and quantum gravity. It investigates the idea that our awareness of space may be only an "emergent" perception which arises from the unique ways in which quantum mechanics spreads (or "entangles") information across different objects. This new rethinking of the nature of spacetime has recently shown great promise and may be key to addressing the longstanding problems in this field. This project also explores some of the unique properties of black holes. Black holes are extreme objects that test the limits of validity of our physical laws and hence are the ideal playgrounds for understanding quantum gravity. This project therefore advances the national interest by promoting the progress of science in one of its most fundamental directions: the discovery and understanding of new physical laws. An extensive undergraduate research program is also a key part of the proposed project, including a course-development component for an undergraduate course on modern topics in theoretical physics. Such a course will help to provide undergraduate physics students with solid foundations for graduate school. The PI will also continue preparing an undergraduate textbook on classical field theory, a subject which forms one of the cornerstones of physics.
More technically, Professor Sahakian will study the emergence of spacetime from quantum entanglement. This will be done primarily within the context of Matrix theory, a non-perturbative formulation of M-theory and hence of quantum gravity. Professor Sahakian will test these ideas of emergent spacetime within the setting of black-hole physics, attempting to unravel the nature of the black-hole horizon where recent work suggests the possible breakdown of spacetime geometry, even at long distances. It is also hoped that this research will lead to a better understanding of black-hole evaporation and the details of entanglement evolution in the process of transferring information from the interior of a black hole to the outside.