One of the most difficult challenges faced by physicists and mathematicians involves understanding how molecules and atoms, in their various forms, behave collectively. Deceptively simple questions related to this area of study, such as how and why ice forms, still lack complete explanations. The situation becomes even more complicated when quantum mechanics—the laws that apply to materials at the atomic level—are added to the mix.
Robert Seiringer of McGill University, considered one of the leading mathematical physicists in the world under the age of 40, is exploring some of the mathematical problems surrounding these collective behaviours. His work has earned him a 2012 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from NSERC.
Dr. Seiringer currently focusses on mathematical models that describe various phenomena occurring in quantum gases, for instance the structure of their “excitation spectrum” or the characteristics of “rapidly rotating Bose gases” and “Bose/Fermi mixtures.” The existence of these interacting states of matter and energy was originally theorized mathematically by such illustrious 20th century scientists as Albert Einstein. Dr. Seiringer seeks to further extend their work by developing new mathematical and statistical models that will enable scientists to better understand and predict the behaviour of so-called “quantum many-body systems”—nanoscale constellations of large numbers of interacting particles.
Ultimately, progress in this area (as in the case of earlier studies) will shed light on how the laws of physics operate at the universe’s smallest scale and how interactions there relate to the larger scale properties of matter and energy that we are more familiar with. While applications may be some years away, the insights gained will almost certainly help us expand our understanding of physical properties such as magnetism, and exotic phenomena such as superconductivity and superfluidity.