Interdisciplinary Condensed Matter Physics Team

Tiny particles, big effects

For Franco Nori and his colleagues at iTHES, thinking big means thinking exceptionally small. Scientists continue to grapple with the rules governing quantum-scale behavior of subatomic particles, which can differ markedly from those associated with the ‘classical physics’ we observe in our daily interactions with the world. However, these principles profoundly influence larger-scale phenomena in classical physics as well as biology and chemistry, and Nori believes that a deeper understanding of quantum physics could yield tangible benefits in areas including high-speed computing and efficient energy production.

 Although trained as a physicist, Nori has long been invested in exploring connections between his field and other disciplines. “In 2011, we submitted a grant proposal to support a collaboration with another RIKEN research group, linking condensed-matter physics and statistical mechanics to computational biochemistry and biology,” says Nori. The proposal led to his appointment as head of the Interdisciplinary Condensed Matter Physics Team at iTHES, a move that has already enabled his group to more effectively examine the interface between quantum and classical physics.

“Recently, we also wondered whether it is possible to understand certain quantum measurements using classical field theory,” says Nori. “In principle, these are not connected, but one goal of iTHES is to connect apparently unrelated problems.” His team confirmed that this is indeed possible1, and such approaches—in combination with computational strategies for simulating quantum-scale behavior2, also being explored at iTHES—could aid development of quantum computing systems that tackle challenging mathematical problems with unprecedented speed. Nori’s team is also partnering with biologists to understand quantum effects in biological processes, such as photosynthesis3. A better understanding of how plants achieve such remarkable efficiency in harvesting energy from light could inform the development of large-scale artificial systems that generate power at far lower cost than current methods do. In 2011, the Condensed Matter Physics Team also expanded to include the laboratories of chief scientist Akira Furusaki and associate chief scientist Seiji Yunoki, both of whom conduct research into the unusual quantum properties of materials such as superconductors.

Nori praises the unique collaborative environment of iTHES, and hopes that the group will become a major destination for external scientists interested in coming together to help tackle science’s biggest questions. “It is much easier to find overlapping interests with an extremely large pool of researchers,” he says, “and I hope RIKEN significantly expands its program to bring research visitors here with diverse areas of expertise from other institutions to help us explore these problems from various perspectives.”

Condensed Matter

Research papers

  1. Dressel, J., Bliokh, K. Y. & Nori, F. Classical field approach to quantum weak measurements. Physical Review Letters 112, 110407 (2014).

  1. Georgescu, I. M., Ashhab, S. & Nori, F. Quantum simulation. Reviews of Modern Physics 86, 153–185 (2014).

  1. Lambert, N., Chen, Y.-N., Chen, Y.-C., Li, C.-M., Chen, G.-Y. & Nori, F. Quantum biology. Nature Physics 9, 10–18 (2013).


Image credit: Reproduced from Ref. 2 © 2014 American Physical Society

Caption: The Condensed Matter Physics Team is exploring the potential of quantum simulatorsto develop quantum computing systems for the study of challenging mathematical problems with unprecedented speed.