In this episode, I converse with Dr. Nicole Yunger Halpern, a theoretical physicist and an ITAMP Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (ITAMP). Nicole completed her PhD in 2018 advised by John Preskill at Caltech and before that, she earned her Masters's at the highly selective Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) program of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Bachelors at Dartmouth College, where she graduated as a co-valedictorian of her class.
Nicole re-envisions 19th-century thermodynamics for 21st-century settings—small, quantum, and far-from-equilibrium contexts—using the mathematical toolkit of quantum information theory. Nicole uses quantum thermodynamics as a new lens through which to view the rest of science and calls her research “Quantum Steampunk,” after the steampunk genre of art and literature that juxtaposes Victorian settings with futuristic technologies. We touch on a wide array of topics, right from her amazing experience at a liberal arts college and the deep influence humanities have had on her scientific persona, the essential nature of interdisciplinarity and collaboration in academia, her terrific mentors who have hugely inspired Nicole and her revolutionary work, her scintillating efforts at science communication through her monthly blog posts, and many more things!
Her superb post elucidating the difference between Quantum Thermodynamics and Quantum Statistical Mechanics - https://quantumfrontiers.com/2019/07/21/what-distinguishes-quantum-thermodynamics-from-quantum-statistical-mechanics/