Inside the Minds of Two Award-Winning Yale Physicists

Edward Kong | edward.kong@yale.edu December 20, 2013
Professor Michel Devoret. Courtesy of the Yale Applied Physics Department.

Professor Michel Devoret. Courtesy of the Yale Applied Physics Department.

Michel Devoret is the Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Applied Physics & Physics. He and Robert Schoelkopf received the John Stewart Bell Prize from the University of Toronto for their contributions to the field of quantum mechanics.

What were your thoughts when you were awarded the John Stewart Bell Prize?
This kind of recognition is always felt as a great honor, and a great happiness to be admitted among physicists…it’s this feeling of being included in a very interesting community.

What is it like to collaborate so closely with another researcher?
Rob is a wonderful criticizer. He’s pitiless and very harsh, and I appreciate this very much. We collaborate in various ways, but this kind of critical eye is very precious.

Professor Robert Schoelkopf. Courtesy of Yale News.

Professor Robert Schoelkopf. Courtesy of Yale News.

How did you become interested in research? Did you know what you wanted to pursue early on or did it take a lot of exploration?
I have known ever since I was 25 that I wanted to become a physicist but prior to that, if I could have been a pilot, I would have. This was my childhood dream. But then because my eyesight is rather poor, I had decided to be an aviation engineer, but you see I ended up being a physicist, because as you grow up you learn more about the world around you, you understand better what science is, what the different sciences are, and how you fit in.

What kind of advice would you give to undergraduates interested in doing research, both in your field, and in the broader area of physics?
Right now, we are not limited in my field by the laws of nature as we are limited by our ability to interest young students to join the field. So they can come en masse and there will be something interesting for them to do.

What would you say is the most interesting, or important, or coolest application for quantum computing?
What [is] really interesting about quantum information [is] that it [can’t] be copied…There will be more and more need for the privacy of information as abuses are committed with information that circulates on the web. There will be more and more desire to be able to control where the information is going.

Professor Reina Maruyama. Courtesy of the American Physical Society.

Professor Reina Maruyama. Courtesy of the American Physical Society.

Reina Maruyama, Assistant Professor of Physics, was named Woman Physicist of the Month for June 2013 by the American Physical Society in recognition of her work in nuclear and particle astrophysics and her mentorship of young scientists.

What were your thoughts when you were named Woman Physicist of the Month?
I was nominated by people I was mentoring, so I felt honored that those interactions that I had with students and post-docs — that they appreciated it, and that they thought enough to nominate me for this award, so I was really honored.

How did you become interested in research? Did you know what you wanted to pursue early on or did it take a lot of exploration?
I would say for me it was a journey. When I started undergraduate I didn’t really know what I wanted to major in, so I pursued physics as one option. I’ve always loved finding out how things worked, and questions of why things are the way things are, how we got here — that was always something that interested me.

What kind of advice would you give to undergraduates interested in doing research, both in your field, and in the broader area of Physics?
I would say, explore; don’t be afraid to try new things; don’t be afraid to fail. There’s so much cool stuff out there, and I really encourage you to explore and see what gets you going.

What’s it like to perform research internationally — do those roles and responsibilities ever make mentoring difficult?
A lot of neutrino and dark matter experiments are located in remote locations such as underground laboratories. I think that Antarctica has additional pull for students — just doing science in crazy places. Having that extra motivation to get people interested in what we do … I think that’s actually a plus. And if I can send students there, that’s even better.