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From Graphene to Gravity: Exploring the Physics of Emergence

From Graphene to Gravity: Exploring the Physics of Emergence

Image: The Hall effect can come in classical or quantum forms. The quantum version is an emerging property of a large number of electrons, which underlies the peculiar condensed matter phenomenon seen in many topological materials, such as topological insulators.
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Credit: Created by Elfy Chiang for the Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi. © FQXi

A new short volume by veteran science writer Georg Moser covers the concept of appearing in two areas of physics: matter physics (commonly known as condensed matter) and the physics of space and time (commonly known as quantum gravity). Both regions have experienced a small revolution over the past two decades. In condensed matter, physicists realized that nature is filled with states of matter beyond the usual solids, liquids, and gases. The so-called quantum and topological phases were recognized by the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 2016. As for quantum gravity, theorists come to the idea that space, and perhaps time, are not fundamental, but stem from a deeper level of physics. musher Appearance in condensed matter and quantum gravitypublished by Springer, is now available for purchase.

“In physics, boredom means interesting,” says Moser, a member of the Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, a physics research center. Take air, for example. It obeys very simple laws of pressure and temperature, but imagine zooming in at the molecular level, and the molecules bouncing, spinning, and pairing at such a pace and in such great numbers that it’s mind-blowing. How do all those billions and billions of molecules simply behave in our eyes? How, in this respect, that all the particles in a snowflake or a salt crystal achieve such beautiful shapes, without any guiding hand – only their own mutual interactions?

This is what emerges: the way many particles, particles, or other fundamental units work together collectively to achieve something greater than any of them. It’s one of the most important concepts in science, but also one of the most charged. In his new book, Moser provides an introduction to this fascinating field, reviewing the scientific literature in a way that is accessible to beginners, while highlighting more recent work that keeps experts informed. The new paperback and online resource was published by Springer on August 10, 2022, and grew from an in-depth report prepared by Moser for the John Templeton Foundation, JTF, and Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, published in December 2021.

Moser begins with an introduction describing how the concept of appearance in science has become more important. Chapter Two takes a deep look at some of the most exciting new materials ever discovered and engineered — from so-called exotic metals to topological insulators — and how their game-changing properties could revolutionize aspects of medical therapy, electronics, and quantum computers. Graphene is one of the best known examples, but Moser found out more. “One of my favorite materials has been topological insulators, because they are an intellectual puzzle, and because they appear in so many different places,” Moser says. “You get the feeling that there is a lot to learn about them.”

The universe is a hologram

Moser next moves from lab-made materials to the extreme opposite, the composition of space itself, possibly from quantum building blocks, explaining why our universe is a hologram all the way through. “There’s a lot of talk about physicists being different — complaints about string theory get a lot of press,” Moser says. But this is a case where they have already reached some kind of agreement. Space does not appear to be fundamental to the universe.” In the final chapter, Moser explores the clear connections between theories of condensed matter, string theory and the emergence of space and time.

“Space does not appear to be fundamental to the universe.”

The volume includes drawings that help illustrate two of physics’ most complex effects: Hall effects in condensed matter physics that give rise to some of the most unusual and useful properties of some exotic matter; And the hologram in space-time in quantum gravity, which relates to the emergence of space-time from the basic quantum processes.

“Moser describes a series of profound echoes that bring together the seemingly disparate arenas of physics,” says FQX’s Zeeya Merali, who edited Moser’s original report for the Institute for Foundational Questions. “These surprising connections open the door to experiments that could shed light on how mysterious matter works and even the origins of the universe as we know it.”

Moser is an accomplished and award-winning science writer, with a background in electrical engineering, mathematics, and planetary science. hold office Scientific AmericanPhysics Editor for over a decade and has already published popular physics books on string theory and quantum physics. “Moser is known for his ability to simplify mind-blowing ideas to a general audience, with wit and charm,” Merali says. “He also has a wonderful nose for exploring which nascent theories will ultimately lead to profound shifts in our understanding of the foundations of reality, which has earned him the respect of the professional physics community as well.”

To review copies of Appearance in condensed matter and quantum gravitycontact Angela Lahee in Springer (angela.lahee@springer.com) and to speak with the author, connect with Georg Moser (strings@musser.com). The book’s table of contents is available here. Moser can talk about the peculiar properties of condensed matter phases including superconductors, Bose-Einstein capacitors, exotic metals, topological insulators, and their potential applications. Turning to the origin of space, he can also discuss how space emerges from quantum effects, such as entanglement, the principle of holography, and how space can be visualized as a symbol for error correction.

Moser’s original Emergence Report was produced by the Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, in partnership with and with the support of the John Templeton Foundation, JTF. It was part of a series that explores the frontiers of physics research. Other reports in this series look at how our universe came about, whether time is real, and whether physical parameters in our universe are fine-tuned to lead to intelligent life.

Other books available in the popular science series include FQXi / Springer Cosmic Origins: Science’s Long Quest to Understand How Our Universe Beganby science journalist Mitch Waldrop, and published March 2022.

Hall Effects graphics by Elfy Chiang, Space Hologram by Maayan Harel, and others can be downloaded from FQXi.

Book reference: Emergence in condensed matter and quantum gravity: a non-technical review

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The Foundation for Foundation Questions, FQXi, stimulates, supports, and publishes research on questions in foundations of science, particularly new frontiers in physics and innovative ideas that are integral to a deep understanding of reality but are unlikely to be supported by traditional sources of funding. Visit fqxi.org for more information.


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