This award funds the research activities of Professor Sumit R. Das at the University of Kentucky.
As part of his research, Professor Das aims to explore the unification of gravity with quantum mechanics using a variety of new theoretical and conceptual tools. He will also study the properties of a variety of quantum-mechanical systems when they are not in equilibrium. Both these problems are among the most important foundational problems in physics. Consequently, research in this area serves the national interest by advancing fundamental science in the United States. Professor Das will also involve graduate students in this research, thereby providing them with the valuable training necessary to develop into independent scientists and educators. In addition, the results of this research will be used to enhance classroom education. Professor Das also plans to give public talks about the subject of his research in various forums, particularly "Science for Everyone, KY", which will serve to increase scientific awareness within the larger public community.
More technically, Professor Das will study aspects of the holographic correspondence which relates gravitational physics to non-gravitational theories which live in lower numbers of spacetime dimensions. This correspondence has been used to understand puzzles related to the Hawking radiation of black holes by mapping these puzzles to problems in conventional quantum theory of the type which appears in electroweak and strong interactions. At the same time, this correspondence has thrown valuable light on difficult problems in strongly interacting quantum many-body systems which appear in particle physics, nuclear physics, or cold-atom physics, by mapping these problems onto problems in classical gravity. Overall, the projects to be tackled have two principal goals. The first involves deciphering the precise way in which the lower-dimensional non-gravitational theory metamorphoses into a higher-dimensional theory of gravity. This will be done by exploring solvable models, particularly those whose gravity descriptions contain black holes, and by applying the ideas of quantum information theory to understand the emergence of space. The second aim is to apply gravitational physics to gain insight into universal aspects of how systems achieve thermal equilibrium --- a question which lies at the heart of many diverse areas of physics.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.