Quantum Foundations Resources

Since I frequently get comments from people looking to learn more about the foundations of quantum theory, here is a collection of resources to help you learn about the subject.


Upcoming conferences and workshops

12 Responses to Quantum Foundations Resources

  1. Thanks for this resource.

  2. Pingback: Quantum Foundations Resources

  3. You have any links to websites with lists of research groups or departments where one can go to do work in quantum foundations at Ph.D. level?

  4. A while ago I started compiling a list of quantum foundations researchers, but I never really finished it. It is quite difficult to keep such lists up-to-date, which is why I have avoided posting anything like that. However, if you tell me a bit about which sorts of approaches to quantum foundations you are interested in, and whereabouts in the world you would be prepared to go for a Ph.D., then I can recommend some places to apply.

  5. I am convinced that none of the current approaches are going anywhere. Among other things, none of the approaches have anything sensible to say about systems with infinitely many degrees of freedom.

    My concern is more about what is called ‘experimental metaphysics’ by a physicist recently, i.e., actual experiments resolving (or raising) foundational issues. There seems to be too much jumping to foundational conclusions when unwarranted. I wish to look at all the experiments in this field with an ultra-critical eye and then, hopefully, catalog everything that these experiments *are* absolutely telling us, *then* think about what exactly it is that they are telling us. For instance, QFT has finally admitted (in the form of Wilsonian renormalisation paradigm), that there are things that we don’t know, although this ignorance can often be renormalized away. Until we remove this ignorance by knowing—rather than by renormalizing—how can we know what is going on? Also, what is spin-1/2 ? Obviously there is a whole lot of geometry which we simply don’t know there. For that matter, what *is* an electron (when it does indeed ‘behave like a particle’)? Of course, i consider string ‘theory’ a nontheory. What is the relationship between nonlocality, entanglement, contextuality, and wave-particle ‘duality’? Even though i think most of the current theoretical approaches to the quantum quandary are failing to provide a big picture, i have a soft corner for Everett’s thinking, and that of Bohm-De-Broglie , and for Hestenes’ attempts to incorporate geometry via Clifford-Algebras.

    I am willing to go almost anywhere, but have very strong desire to go to Europe if i can find a suitable place there. My background is in Mathematics and some dabbling in theoretical physics. For instance, I am very much at home with thinking of quantum things in terms of toposes or in terms of noncommutative geometry, or pseudo-differential operators and Weyl correspondence.

  6. OK, it sounds like you would fit in well somewhere where people study the foundations of QFT as well as quantum mechanics. Although you mentioned experiments, I am assuming that you don’t actually want to do experiments yourself, but rather that you want to analyse them theoretically. In the UK, I think Imperial College Theoretical Physics group might be a good fit for you and you may want to try Andreas Doering at Oxford. It may also be worth trying Cambridge because they recently renamed their quantum information group to “quantum information and foundations” and there is also a lot of QFT expertise within the same department. As for the rest of Europe, I am less well acquainted with the people doing the type of foundations that interests you there, although the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Utrecht comes to mind because ‘t Hooft has a foundational bent.

    If you actually want to work on Everett, then I would recommend the philosophy of physics group at Oxford. If you want to work on Bohm then I would recommend contacting Sheldon Goldstein at Rutgers in the first instance, and he could refer you to colleagues in Europe if he is not taking students himself. However, it sounds to me like you don’t really want to work on these approaches specifically.

    Generally speaking, it seems like you already have a fairly clear idea of what you want to do and that you might be quite independent as a Ph.D. student. Therefore, it is mainly a question of finding a good advisor who would be willing to support you, even if they are not working on exactly the same thing as you. The suggestions I have given should be good for a start, but let me know if you want a more comprehensive list of groups in the UK at least.

  7. Thanks a lot, Matt, for this kind informative reply.
    Yes, I will certainly follow up on the leads you have provided.
    I wouldn’t mind even *performing* experiments, and even coming up with new experiments as required, and then, if possible, perform those. However, you are right; my main concern is to discern truth, and I am assuming that the truth here is sufficiently complex that it will require new conceptual/theoretical breakthroughs, for which, my mind is perhaps more suitable than the experimental side. At any rate, my motto in this case is ‘whatever it takes’. And hence, i think it is necessary to think from scratch about all the quantum ‘wierdness’ experiments carried out so far, and then some. I am not particularly interested in QFT and/or Quantum Mechanics—both being quasi-theoretical constructs woefully lacking in basic fundamental conceptual content. What I am interested in, though, is quantum *phenomena* and whatever theoretical contribution i might end up making towards a comprehensive understanding thereof, as opposed to the Copenhagen Capitulation and other curiosities such as strings etc.

    Again, I thank you sincerely, and wish you well in your quest, too.

  8. Well, if you are interested in being an experimentalist then you should definitely look up Anton Zeilinger’s group in Vienna and Nicholas Gisin’s group in Geneva. In an experimental Ph.D. you would likely have to work on whatever projects are going on in the lab, and would have less freedom to explore your own ideas, at least initially. However, it can be a good thing to be focussed on a very definite project at the beginning, as it gives you solid training in how to do research before you jump into the deep end. Both groups also have good theoretical research, and I know that Vienna has received a fair bit of funding for foundations Ph.D. students recently, so it is worth contacting them. In particular, you might want to ask Caslav Brukner about theory Ph.D. positions in Vienna, although I suspect his approach might be a bit too Copenhagenish for your liking.

    Although you mentioned that you wanted to be in Europe, I would also recommend looking at Perimeter Institute in Canada for theoretical Ph.D’s. They have one of the strongest foundations groups in the world and the advantage is that there are lots of courses, conferences and workshops held there, so you would likely get exposed to more different approaches than anywhere else. I used to work there myself and have the greatest respect for my colleagues Lucien Hardy and Rob Spekkens in the foundations group. Again, I am not sure whether their research programs will be to your taste, but it is the sort of place where you will be encouraged to pursue your own ideas if they are concrete enough and you show the ability to do so. The nearby Institute for Quantum Computing also has some foundations theory in Joseph Emerson’s group and they also do the occasional foundations experiment there. The institute as a whole is more focussed on quantum information and computing, but Perimeter is only a 20min walk away, so you still get the benefit of all the activities going on there.

  9. Chetan Waghela

    Hi, My name is Chetan Waghela and I have done M.Sc in Physics from Pune University, India. I am currently studying for GRE and doing a freelance job. I am reading from books like ‘ Conceptual Developments of Quantum mechanics’ by Max Jammer whenever I get time. I am keen on doing research in Quantum Foundations and History. I will be obliged if you answer a few of the questions worrying me.
    Q. I want to apply to Perimeter Institute ( it is of highest priority to me). What criteria is needed to get chosen for Ph.d there? I will give GRE in coming months both general and subject
    Q. Where in Italy can I apply for the same?

    Thanks in advance :-)

  10. Well, you have left it a bit late to apply for the coming academic year. You really need to start applying around Decemberish because most programmes have application deadlines around February-March. That said, it is still possible that someone has an open position for a Ph.D. so you might get lucky, or you can just look into it for the following year.

    There is an important difference between applying for a Ph.D. in North America and in Europe. In North America, you typically just apply to grad school in some department at a university and you will start off taking classes and possibly doing a small research project. You won’t have to choose a Ph.D. advisor until a little way into the programme, so there is scope to apply to an institution where you think there is a variety of different research that interests you and then make your mind up on a thesis topic a year or so into the programme. In Europe, you typically apply directly to work with a particular advisor, so you need to find out a little bit about their research interests before you apply. Also, the Europeans typically won’t care about the GRE, and may not even have heard of it. They will be more interested in how well you have done in your degree, whether it is from an institution with a good reputation, whether you have done any projects in related areas of research, and that sort of thing.

    Regarding Perimeter Institute, note that they do not actually have the ability to award Ph.D. degrees themselves. Instead, you would be a grad student at a nearby university and you would get your degree awarded from there, but your advisor can be at Perimeter and you may spend most of your time and have your office there. There are details on how to apply here. Note that Perimeter Institute now offers its own equivalent of a one-year masters programme, and your chances of getting a Ph.D. position may be increased if you do that first. Depending on what subjects were covered in your M.Sc., this may or may not be appropriate for you. However, it does include a courses on the foundations of quantum theory and it would give you a chance to do a small research project in the area. This would also give you a chance to interact with and impress the researchers at Perimeter, so it may increase your chances of getting a Ph.D. position there. See here for details. Note that the nearby University of Waterloo offers a graduate programme in quantum information, and some parts of that are closely related to quantum foundations (particularly Joseph Emerson’s group in the Department of Applied Math), so that might provide another possible route for you. See here for details.

    Regarding Italy, there are a few different groups that do research in quantum foundations. There is the group of d’Ariano in Pavia that does interesting work in operational/axiomatic approaches to quantum theory (see here). There are also people who work on realist approaches to quantum theory, like Ghiradi (see here). To be honest, I am not an expert on all the groups that exist in Italy so you are better off contacting someone who works there for advice. In Italy, you would most likely apply directly to the person that you would like to work with. There is nothing wrong with just sending people an email asking if they have any available positions. However, you should check on the website of the research group and department to see if they have any officially advertised positions beforehand. Also, don’t be offended if many such emails are ignored, since the person you are writing to may not have a position and they are probably getting a lot of such emails. My impression is that it is not so easy for an international student to get a position in Italy, as their academic system has a reputation for involving a lot of politics and nepotism. I don’t know whether this reputation is really justified because, as I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with their system.

    OK, now for some more general advice. The best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting a Ph.D. position is to actually do some work in the area you are interested in. This could include things like doing a small research project during your masters degree or during a summer internship, taking advanced level classes in the subject, or writing an essay relevant to it. This will give you something concrete to talk about during interviews. For example, when I applied for a Ph.D. position, which was actually in quantum information rather than quantum foundations, I had taken a class in quantum information theory and written an essay on quantum error correction. This meant that potential advisors could quiz me on this stuff during the interview and they could see that I knew what was involved in the subject rather than just having a vague interest. I am pretty sure that this was a decisive factor in landing a position.

    If you don’t have the opportunity to do this then the next best thing is to read widely on the subject. Reading Jammer is not a bad starting point, but you should try to get hold of some more modern books as well. You might want to look at some of the books in my Amazon store (although you don’t have to buy them from there of course) and some of the resources on this page. I would particularly recommend looking at the lectures from the UW courses on quantum foundations linked to on this page. These were given by leading experts on various different approaches to the subject, so it will bring you up to date and give you an idea of who you might like to work with. You should also start trying to read recent research papers in quantum foundations by browsing the quant-ph section of the arXiv. You can even sign up for a daily email of the latest papers and take a look at things that seem interesting to you. Of course, you won’t necessarily be able to understand everything you read at this point and that is perfectly OK. The aim is to just give yourself a better idea of the kind of research that people are doing at the moment to give you an idea of what topics you might like to work on and who you want to work with. On that note, if you get an interview for a Ph.D. position you should definitely, absolutely and without question read a few recent papers written by the person who is interviewing you from the arXiv and ask them about things that you found interesting during the interview. In fact, it is not a bad idea to do this before even writing to people to ask if they have a position.

    This brings me to my penultimate point. It seems that you are approaching this by first thinking about the places that you would like to study (Perimeter or Italy). In my view, this is not the best way of going about things. You should first of all think about the people you would most like to work with, and then go wherever they happen to be. You can do this by first thinking about the topics you would like to work on and then finding out which people work on those topics. Unless you are an exceptionally independent student, you will most likely work on a project conceived by your advisor during your Ph.D., so that personal relationship is by far the most important factor in determining your success. It is all very well to want to go to Perimeter, but if it turns out that you are not very interested in the particular research they do there then you won’t have a good time. If the world-renowned expert in the topic that most interests you happens to work at the university of the middle of nowhere then you would be better off going there. There are obviously advantages to having a Ph.D. from a world renowned institution, but the reputation of your advisor within your specific research field is much more important from the point of view of reference letters and future job prospects. That is another reason why it might not be a bad idea to do the Perimeter Scholars International course before applying t do a Ph.D. at Perimeter because it will give you a better idea of whether your interests are compatible with the type of research that is done there.

    Finally, it would be remiss of me if I did not point out that the job prospects in quantum foundations are still not great compared to many other areas of physics. Nowadays, it is not too hard to get a couple of postdoc positions after graduating, but permanent jobs are still thin on the ground. If you have your heart set on an academic career then it may be worth pausing to consider other options. For example, some parts of quantum information are closely related to quantum foundations, so one possibility is to start off in quantum information and develop interests in both subjects over time. This is the route I took and it does increase your employability, at least in the early stages before you have developed a reputation. Another possibility would be to get into the experimental side of the subject because by doing so you will learn techniques that are applicable to other areas of quantum physics. That said, if you just want to do the most interesting Ph.D. possible and are prepared for a rough road ahead then quantum foundations is a great area to do a Ph.D. in.

  11. Hello, I am Sushrut Thorat, a third year undergraduate in physics at IIT Bombay. I am interested in exploring the foundations of quantum theory which seem pretty vague the way they are presented. I have been reading about decoherence and the Everett interpretation, and have watched Rob Spekkens’ lectures too. But all in all I think I’m a long way from thinking of solutions to the measurement problem and all of the troubling aspects of non-locality.

    The thing is, I have no one to guide me in this respect in my institute (which apparently is one of the leading institutions of India).. I’ve got a summer coming up, and I think it would be nice if I work under an experienced professor’s guidance in that time towards the questions of the foundations of quantum physics.. Could you suggest programs, summer schools or professors who could help me in this respect? – let me take up a project maybe?

  12. Regarding summer schools, I do not know of any taking place this summer, but such an event would be announced on the quantum foundations mailing list mentioned above, so I recommend you subscribe to that for future announcements. You can also try going to a conference or workshop on the subject rather than a summer school because some of these have funding for students and you might get something out of it even though it will be less pedagogical. Certainly, if you are capable of understanding research papers written on the subject then you would get something out of going to such a meeting. There is a Google calendar embedded on this page which lists conferences and worksops relevant to quantum foundations. I will update it as I learn of more events. You would have to check the conference websites to see if they have student funding.

    Regarding a summer placement, I am not sure whether you mean within India or internationally. Within India there are a few professors who work on quantum foundations, but I am not too familiar with them or with what programs exist for summer placements in India. Ravi Kunjwal, a grad student from IMS Chennai, recently visited us and he is working on quantum foundations, so you might want to contact him for advice on where to go in India. His website is http://www.imsc.res.in/~rkunj/

    Internationally, I would say that it is rather rare for an institution to have funding for an undergraduate to visit from elsewhere. We have programs for undergraduates to do research placements, but they are mostly intended for undergrads at our own institutions. Even at the graduate student level, short research visits are not all that common, and it would normally be expected for the student to have research experience and to have published relevant papers. The exception, of course, is if you can obtain your own money to fund the visit. For example, I know that the American Physical Society has funds explicitly for graduate students from India to visit the USA, but that is only for graduate students. Nevertheless, you might want to look at the websites of professional physics societies and of research funding agencies to see if there are any schemes that might apply to you. Professors are likely to look more kindly upon a request to visit if you can fund it yourself in this way.

    The other option for you would be to look into doing your masters degree abroad after you finish your undergrad. At Perimeter Institute, we have the Perimeter Scholars International course, and that is fully funded for successful applicants. I know you have looked at Rob Spekkens’ lectures, but the courses vary from year to year and it would also provide an opportunity to do a research project with a faculty member. Similar courses exist in other places, but usually not funded so you would need to obtain an separate scholarship. Maths part III at Cambridge and the Theoretical Physics masters at Imperial College both have a quantum component and would give you the opportunity interact with faculty interested in quantum foundations. Similar opportunities probably exist in other countries, but I don’t know about them.

    Since you say you are interested in Everett and decoherence, it would be remiss of me not to mention the philosophy of physics group at Oxford, because this is basically Everett central. They have a masters degree program in philosophy of physics, which would be a good way of getting into that. On the physics side, you might try contacting one of the decoherence people like Wojczech Zurek to see if he knows of any opportunities for summer placement, but, as I said, I think such opportunities are rare at the undergrad level.

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