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Physics and Astronomy professors awarded research leave fellowships

March 23, 2017

Two professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy—Alice Quillen and Andrew Jordan—have been awarded prestigious Simons Foundation Faculty Fellowships in theoretical physics. Simons Fellows take research leaves from classroom teaching and administrative obligations to pursue collaborative research ventures that enhance creativity and provide intellectual stimulation. Both faculty members will be on leave for the 2017-18 academic year.

Alice Quillen (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Quillen will study galactic dynamics, planetary science, and celestial mechanics to better understand the stability and evolution of multiple-planet systems. She will further her research on the tidal evolution and elasticity of moons and planets using the new astro-elastodynamics model she developed.

“One of the things I’m curious about is figuring out what happened to the galaxy in the past,” Quillen says. “We don’t actually know that well what the galaxy looks like because we’re sitting in it.”

Her research interests will take her to the Nice Observatory in France and the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia to work with experts analyzing data from the European satellite GAIA. GAIA launched in 2013 and periodic data releases are scheduled during the duration of the satellite’s approximate five-year mission to construct the largest space catalog to date.

GAIA had its first data release in September 2016, so Quillen notes this is an especially opportune time to have received a fellowship.

“Previously, people have painstakingly pointed telescopes at individual stars in order to study them, but GAIA is doing an all-sky survey of a billion stars,” Quillen says. “This is a public data release, with teams all around the world sharing data analysis. The Simons Fellowship is a great opportunity that allows me to join in this big, exciting thing and visit the people who are working on the data. This is a great time to drop everything and go work on the galaxy!”

Andrew Jordan in his office, where his blackboard is covered in equations relating to continuous quantum error corrections (University photo)

Jordan will further his research in quantum information, thermodynamics, and foundations. He plans to spend most of his leave in California, working with colleagues at UC Berkeley and the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California, as well as visiting colleagues at Parisian universities.

At Berkeley, his projects include studying continuous quantum error correction in superconducting quantum computing; at Chapman, he will explore questions regarding time in quantum mechanics.

“In our day to day life, we see [the] past moving to [the] future, but in the quantum world that picture is not so clear,” he says. “The nature of time in quantum mechanics is a more philosophical question.”

Jordan will also work with colleagues in Paris on research in quantum thermodynamics, essentially “constructing heat engines that work on the microscopic level,” he says.

The Simons Foundation was cofounded by Marilyn and James Simons, a SUNY Stony Brook mathematician and founder of Renaissance Technologies. The Foundation seeks to advance research in mathematics and science by creating strong collaborations and fostering cross-pollination of ideas between investigators, as these interactions often lead to unexpected breakthroughs and new understanding.

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Category: University News