Physicist Maxim Olchanyi
In June of 2012, UMass Boston Associate Professor of Physics Maxim Olchanyi became a fellow of the American Physical Society. His admittance was based upon research he performed on one-dimensional quantum gases, a concept that was first formulated and discussed in the 1960s and into the 70s. But the technology of the time prevented any actual experimentation. Thirty years later, the theories had been all but resigned to the past when Olchanyi resurrected the research, and was able to suggest how to confirm the previous theories through actual experimentation that utilized the advanced tools and resources that had emerged by then.
“I am a mathematical physicist at heart,” says Olchanyi. “My research allows me to take something esoteric, a ‘quantum kaleidoscope’ for example, and work towards building it into usable technology. If we study beautiful things—along the lines of Plato’s ideal forms— their empirical manifestation will be no less amazing; even if a direct experimental realization is hard, one should still expect beneficial and usable byproducts along the way.”
Olchanyi began his physics career at the Institute of Engineering Physics, in Russia, where he received his MS. In 1992, he graduated with his PhD from the Institute of Spectroscopy, also in Russia, where he specialized in theoretical and mathematical physics. Working as a post-doctoral fellow at both École normale supérieure in Paris and at Harvard, he built an impressive research portfolio, joined the faculty of the physics department at the University of Southern California in 1999, and was tenured there in 2004. Olchanyi arrived at UMass Boston in 2007, where he has found a community of researchers with similar interests, and he has provided students with valuable guidance and rich opportunities to take part in his exciting and cutting-edge research.
His current research project, which he began in 2006, is about to make the leap into usable technology as well. His research focuses on memory of the initial state in quantum systems and ways to control and use it in actual devices. One example is one-dimensional billiards at the quantum level. While in usual, two-dimensional billiards it is impossible to infer the velocities of the balls a minute ago from the current state of affairs, in one-dimensional systems—thanks to a regular structure emerging, the so-called “quantum kaleidoscope”—the past leaves many more traces. Another example is the effect of the boundaries in small quantum systems. In a large system, the properties remain constant based on the total energy. But in smaller systems, the proximity of the boundary leads to random uncertainties as we go along the energy scale: two states of a close energy become distinct, and this feature persists in the long-term evolution of the system.
The knowledge of how small features of the initial state affect the long-term evolution of a small quantum system can be used to control it. “The details are indescribable, but need to be known to predict the outcomes” says Olchanyi. “Using mathematics and further experimentation, it is possible to come up with equations to determine beforehand what the important and unimportant factors will be, and to make accurate predictions of how the particles will interact.”
Olchanyi’s current research concerns atoms in light fields, and over the next few years his focus will shift towards nano-opto-mechanics—a field that uses a quantum mechanical device coupled to a quantum light. This field of research has great potential for applications within quantum information processing: quantum cryptography or quantum computing. With quantum cryptography, a technology already being used today, light presents the most pure and least corruptible method of transmitting data, and it is also able to identify at 100% accuracy whether or not a transmission was intercepted. On the other hand, quantum computing, with its promised exponential speed-up of processing, is much less developed, and nano-opto-mechanics may provide the necessary component to turn the theoretical into an actual technological tool.
His interest in his current research was spurred by a colleague, Marcus Rigol, in a ten-minute-long conversation during Rigol’s visit from UC San Diego to the University of Southern California, in 2006. “It started as a true instance of intellectual curiosity,” Olchanyi says, and the question was whether quantum kaleidoscopes ever come to rest. Two years later, this conversation resulted in a joint publication— “Thermalization and its mechanism for genericisolated quantum systems”—in the prestigious Nature magazine. Olchanyi continues to work alongside Rigol in this research, and along with several other physicists—including UMass Boston’s Kurt Jacobs—published a paper entitled “An exactly solvable model for the integrability-chaos transition in rough quantum billiards” in Nature Communications in 2012.
His many-hour conversations with fellow UMass Boston colleagues, Bala Sundaram in the Department of Physics and Steven Jackson in the Department of Mathematics, are an inseparable part of his research process as well. As his research progresses, and expands into nano-opto-mechanics, Olchanyi and his graduate students will continue the search for new ways to turn theoretical and mathematical concepts into usable technologies.
To learn more about Associate Professor Olchanyi's research, contact him at email@example.com.