Interdisciplinary Fundamental Physics Team

Learning the fundamentals

Much of astrophysics is a form of forensics, reconstructing the birth and death of stars in an attempt to understand how these processes shaped the composition of the present-day Universe. Through these efforts, scientists have learned much about the processes that contribute to the explosive force of a supernova or the hypercondensation of a neutron star, all the way down to the atomic scale.

The Interdisciplinary Fundamental Physics Team at iTHES wants to look even deeper, however. “Our major priority for the next several years is to understand mysterious astrophysical phenomena, such as supernovae and the formation of black holes, at the level of elementary particles such as quarks,” says team leader Tetsuo Hatsuda, who is also director of iTHES. The scale and complexity of such research questions will require broad interdisciplinary expertise—a resource that iTHES makes readily available. “I myself have been working mainly on the nuclear physics part of the problem,” says Hatsuda, “but iTHES enables me to tackle these questions together with theoretical particle physicists and theoretical astrophysicists” 1,2.

Modeling these processes is mathematically intensive, and iTHES researchers are relying strongly on the might of the K computer at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe—one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Indeed, Hatsuda notes that such simulations offer a useful ‘proving ground’ for these highly advanced machines. And although the resulting findings will be extracted from an exploration of astrophysical questions, many other fields stand to benefit. “We will be able to apply the mathematical and computational techniques developed in such studies to mathematical biology and quantum chemistry,” says Hatsuda.

Researchers from the Fundamental Physics Team are already cross-pollinating ideas with other groups at iTHES. For example, Koji Hashimoto and Norihiro Iizuka are applying principles from string theory to tackle questions in condensed-matter physics related to spintronics, a technology employed in solid-state computer hard drives3. In parallel, Hatsuda’s team is working closely with Atsushi Mochizuki and his Theoretical Biology Team on a number of projects where mathematical models used in physics might prove helpful in getting a handle on the complexity associated with subcellular and physiological processes. One of the biggest problems on their plate at present pertains to modeling the physics of the condensation process that chromosomes undergo as a critical step prior to cell division. “This is a fundamental and unanswered question in life science,” says Hatsuda, “and is thus one of the biggest challenges where theoretical physicists and theoretical biologists can contribute by working together.”

Fundamental Physics

Research papers

1. Inoue, T., Aoki, S., Doi, T., Hatsuda, T., Ikeda, Y., Ishii, N., Murano, K., Nemura, H. & Sasaki, K. Equation of state for nucleonic matter and its quark mass dependence from the nuclear force in lattice QCD. Physical Review Letters 111, 112503 (2013).

2.  Hidaka, Y. Counting rule for Nambu-Goldstone modes in nonrelativistic systems. Physical Review Letters 110, 091601 (2013).

3. Hashimoto, K., Iizuka, N. & Kimura, T. Towards holographic spintronics. arXiv:1304.3126 [hep-th]  (2013).


Image credit: © Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock

Caption: The first priority of the Fundamental Physics Team is to understand mysterious astrophysical phenomena, such as supernovae (shown), at the level of elementary particles.