Internationally Renowned Quantum Physicist Joins George Mason Faculty

Posted: October 12, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Yakir Aharonov
Yakir Aharonov

A leader in quantum theory and a frequent nominee for the Nobel Prize, Yakir Aharonov joined the College of Science this fall. Mason will be his sole affiliation.

“Dr. Aharonov adds substantive leadership and wide luster to Mason’s program in quantum physics, which has developed into a real center of excellence and which builds as well on the strengths of several existing faculty,” says Provost Peter Stearns. Mason offers the first PhD track in the world in quantum computing.

Aharonov, who previously held faculty appointments at Tel Aviv University in Israel and the University of South Carolina, will be a Distinguished Professor of Quantum Information Science in the newly formed Center for Quantum Studies at Mason. The center is directed by assistant professor Jeff Tollaksen, with whom Aharonov has collaborated in the past.

Aharonov holds tenure in the Department of Computational and Data Sciences, chaired by Dimitrios Papaconstantopoulos, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, chaired by Robert Ehrlich.

While at Mason, Aharonov will further his research on quantum mechanics and will co-teach a graduate-level course, Quantum Paradoxes, with Tollaksen. The two have conducted research involving a fundamental new quantum mystery that was featured in an article in New Scientist.

Aharonov will continue his popular Aharonov Distinguished Lecture Series, attracting to campus high-level lecturers such as Nobel laureates Bill Phillips and Tony Leggett and popular science writers Paul Davies and Roger Penrose. He will also participate in the Center for Quantum Studies Summer Institute for Theoretical Physics, which will bring world-class scientists to campus.

“Professor Aharonov is a highly recognized pioneer in quantum theory and has made monumental contributions to many aspects of physics,” says Tollaksen. These include optics, nuclear physics, chemistry, condensed matter physics, elementary particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology, laser and molecular physics.

In 1998, Aharonov was co-recipient of the Wolf Prize (often the prequel to the Nobel Prize) for the discovery of the Aharonov-Bohm Effect, which he made with the late physicist David Bohm. The Aharonov-Bohm Effect is one of a small number of cornerstones for optimizing quantum coherence in principle and in applications. Some of the practical ramifications for the Aharonov-Bohm Effect include improving the technology in electron microscope holography (which is used in modern medical scanners) and quantum computing.

Highly honored in the scientific world, Aharonov received the Europhysics Prize, the Elliot Cresson Medal, the Weizmann Prize, the Rothschild prize and the Israel National Prize. He was the 25th Van Vleck Lecturer, and is a member of both the Israel and U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Aharonov’s arrival at Mason may well pave the way for the Washington, D.C., area becoming the principal “quantum center” in the world: last month the Joint Quantum Institute was established at the University of Maryland with the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Security Agency.

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