Can theories of the microscopic be reconciled with our everyday, macroscopic world? Dr. Mark Walton, Ph.D. in Theoretical High-Energy Physics, hopes his research will answer that question.

Two theories in physics seem to be at odds with each other. The first, classical mechanics, describes the ways in which macroscopic systems move and are moved by each other (think apples, people, planets, etc.). Principles such as Newton’s Laws of Motion govern these systems. The second, quantum mechanics, describes the behavior of molecules, atoms, and elementary particles. New concepts become important, such as quantum uncertainties, entanglement, and superpositions of states. “Historically,” Dr. Walton says, “physicists have simply put the two together in a straightforward way, but then found that inconsistencies follow. This is a vexing problem: clearly, the world we live in has parts that can be described classically and parts that need a quantum treatment, and they coexist.”

Dr. Walton believes that the solution to this problem lies in changing the starting point. “I take a different approach, starting from the assumption that quantum systems are fundamental. Classical mechanics is only an effective description that emerges from the more fundamental quantum treatment.” Dr. Walton, along with his M.Sc. student Mustafa Amin, has already found some interesting results from this shift in perspective. “Remarkably, we have found that the ad hoc modifications [originally proposed by others] are natural consequences in our approach.”

Bringing together these two theories could fundamentally shift our understanding of our world and open new possibilities for physicists. “If we are successful, our understanding would be significantly improved. In addition, applications to mesoscopic physics, between microscopic and macroscopic, may become possible. Progress may also be possible in quantum vs classical computation.”

Dr. Walton is a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and has been a faculty member since 1991.

This graph captures the wave-like behaviour of a particle bouncing off a very hard wall. Dr. Walton was pleasantly surprised that the graph looks like the Batmobile!