I hold a weekly group meeting, Wednesday afternoons, with an extended group including some students, visiting KITP grad fellows, postdocs, and sometimes other visitors. It runs an hour, and generally unstructured. Yesterday our new postdoc, Xiao Chen, who just arrived from UIUC, talked about his work on “out of time ordered” correlations, which is a new-ish way to study dynamics of quantum systems, the transition to chaos and thermalization, and other related phenomena. There are connections of this subject to condensed matter physics, ultra-cold atoms, quantum information science, and even black hole information (which is where this originated!).
It’s a pretty stimulating subject, and after an hour when the meeting ended, four of us stayed there and kept talking for about another hour – I didn’t keep track – chatting about all these different connected ideas, and what we did and didn’t understand. None of us are really expert in this subject, and only Xiao has worked on it very seriously. If you know me, you know my interests tend to lean towards “real world” topics – i.e. specific to some material or experiment. This is pretty far from that! But how can you not be fascinated by these concepts that are so far ranging that they touch both the foundations of statistical mechanics and the origins of gravity? I don’t know how, but there were still only four of us that stayed.
In most professions, free-ranging discussions don’t seem like a part of “work”. With all the many responsibilities of an academic position, it can be hard to take time for them even for us. Yet I firmly believe that such dialogues are critical to learning, developing new ideas, and doing good research. More than anything else, if you have a passion for physics, you should love this stuff! It made my day yesterday – thanks people!