Physics Illinois welcome new faculty member Thomas Faulkner

Siv Schwink
3/18/2014

Thomas Faulkner joined the faculty at Physics Illinois during the Spring 2014 term.

Faulkner is a theoretical physicist who works at the intersection of high-energy physics and condensed matter physics. Faulkner applies the quantitative mechanical tools of string theory to persistent problems in theoretical condensed matter physics to yield fresh insights into quantum many body systems.

“High energy and condensed matter each have slightly different languages, but quite often share unifying principals, and I find that very interesting,” comments Faulkner.

The merging of quantum many body systems and string theory has its origin in the so-called holographic duality where stringy and gravitational physics is encoded in a quantum hologram in one less dimension. This duality allows unanswered questions about strongly correlated phenomena to be rewritten within field theory in terms of simple problems in classical gravity.

“This holographic duality provides a new starting point from which to attack problems in field theory,” explains Faulkner. “The approach has certain advantages over weak coupling expansions and numerical work: Weak coupling expansions can easily miss various strongly coupled phenomena, and numerical work can suffer from the dangerous sign problem, which makes the computation impossibly hard with current techniques.”

Faulkner’s recent work in strongly correlated materials applies this holographic duality to the understanding of the normal phase of high-temperature superconductors. In particular his work has yielded insight into the mysterious non-Fermi liquid phase.

This holographic duality may also prove useful to our fundamental understanding of quantum black holes, by shedding light on how gravity and quantum mechanics can live together consistently. Here, Faulkner applies the tools of theoretical condensed matter—specifically, our understanding of geometric entanglement entropy—to string theory, with the goal of understanding how spacetime and gravity emerge from a purely quantum theory. Faulkner describes this paradigm as the most promising approach to quantum gravity.

Faulkner looks forward to collaborating with colleagues and graduate students at Physics Illinois: “I’m excited to be in such a dynamic environment, with the condensed matter and the high energy people here. Being at the intersection of two fields, Urbana is the perfect place to be.”

He also looks forward to beginning teaching in the fall: “I was deeply inspired by several of my teachers as an undergraduate—and in fact, at various stages throughout my career. I have always appreciated good teachers, those who care passionately about their respective subjects. I would hope to teach with that kind of passion and to provide that kind of inspiration to my students here at Illinois,” shares Faulkner.

Faulkner is currently building his research group and is accepting graduate students with a strong interest in fundamental questions relating to strongly correlated phenomena in many-body systems or in fundamental questions in quantum gravity, and the intersection of the two.

Faulkner is a member of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory at the University of Illinois.

Faulkner received his bachelor’s degree in physics with honors from the University of Melbourne, in Australia, in 2003. He received his doctoral degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009, working at the Center for Theoretical Physics under advisers Hong Liu and Krishna Rajagopal.

Prior to joining the faculty at Physics Illinois, Faulkner was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ (2012-2014). Before that, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2009-2012).

 

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