Professor Terry Rudolph talks to Sam Tracey about how he gets in the right frame of mind to ponder the mysteries of quantum physics.
Ever since being introduced to quantum physics as an undergraduate, Professor Terry Rudolph (Physics) has pondered its mysteries, even getting up in the small hours to think of new ways around problems. We caught up with him in what is his eighth year at Imperial.
Is it possible for the layperson to understand quantum theory?
I suspect that once we, the quantum theorists, understand it properly ourselves then it will be easier to explain it! On a very basic level, it’s the theory that governs the behaviour of microscopic objects such as atoms. The problem is, if you try to explain quantum mechanics in a way that relates to objects we do understand, then you lose the essence of what makes it such a fascinating field to work in.
"I do most of my research at home between 04.00 and the time that I come into work – It takes perhaps half an hour to get your brain into the problem-solving mode"
– Prof Terry Rudolph
Why build a quantum computer?
A quantum computer would harness the power of atoms and molecules to perform memory and processing tasks. It would let us simulate very complex systems that our current computers can’t handle. Even supercomputers have relatively basic, naïve models that have to run for many years to do certain calculations. A quantum computer, on the other hand, could do these tasks very efficiently. It would give us a lot more power over chemistry, biochemistry, condensed matter physics and materials design. The key thing to emphasise is that a quantum computer is not just a small, fast version of our current computers. Rather it would process information in a completely different way.
What is the process of doing theoretical physics like?
I do most of my research at home between 04.00 and the time that I come into work – and also at weekends. This type of research needs lots of time. It takes perhaps half an hour to get your brain into the problem-solving mode, so it doesn’t work to snatch time between teaching commitments, personal tutoring and administration. There are plenty of fun, eureka moments in theoretical physics but, normally, once I have an idea that I know has merit, I pass it on to the student with the most knowledge about the problem from their project.
— Sam Tracey for Communications and Development
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