Shih-I Pai Lecture

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24th Annual Shih-I Pai Lecture
"Occam's Razor, Boltzmann's Brain, and Wigner's Friend"
by Charles H. Bennett

When: Tuesday, October 9, 2018

  • 3:00 pm – Reception in the James A. Yorke Rotunda, William E. Kirwan Hall
  • 4:00 pm – Lecture in the Physics Lecture Hall, Room 1412, Physics Building

The Institute for Physical Science and Technology and The Department of Physics presents the 24th Annual Shih-I Pai Lecture. The Shih-I Pai lecture series commemorates the many contributions and the remarkable legacy of Professor Shih-I Pai (1913-1996), to the study of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics. Professor Pai was a University of Maryland faculty member from 1949 to 1996, and founding member of the Institute for Fluid Dynamics and Applied Mathematics, now the Institute for Physical Science and Technology.

Speaker: Charles H. Bennett. IBM Fellow, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center and 2018 Wolf Prize Recipient.

Biography: Charles H. Bennett, an IBM Fellow at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, received his B.S. in chemistry from Brandeis University in 1964 and his Ph.D. in the study of molecular dynamics (computer simulations of molecular movements) from Harvard University in 1971.

He joined IBM's research labs in 1972 where he performed pioneering research in the physics of information processing, and in fundamental quantum mechanics. Building on the work of IBM’s Rolf Landauer, he showed that general-purpose computation can be performed by a logically and thermodynamically reversible apparatus. In collaboration with Gilles Brassard, Université de Montréal, he developed a system of quantum cryptography, known as BB84, which allows secure communication between parties who share no secret information initially, based on the uncertainty principle.

Bennett and Brassard, with collaborators, discovered “quantum teleportation,” an effect in which the complete information in an unknown quantum state is decomposed into purely classical information and purely non-classical Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) correlations, sent through two separate channels, and later reassembled in a new location to produce an exact replica of the original quantum state that was destroyed in the sending process.

Bennett and colleagues helped found the quantitative theory of entanglement and introduced several techniques for faithful transmission of classical and quantum information through noisy channels, part of the larger and recently very active field of quantum information and computation theory.

Bennett is the recipient of the Rank Award for Optoelectronics; Harvey Prize; Okawa Prize; Dirac Medal and the Wolf Prize in Physics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Abstract: Modern cosmology has revived interest in some early 20th century puzzles that had seemed to be more in the realm of unanswerable philosophy than science: the Boltzmann’s brain problem of whether we might be merely a rare statistical fluctuation in an old dead universe, rather than inhabitants of a thriving young one, and the Wigner’s friend problem, of what it feels like to be inside an unobserved quantum superposition.

For more information, contact Mary Kearney at (301) 405-4814 or