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Quantum mathematics

Esteemed mathematician to SDU

American Professor Vivek Shende establishes a research group at the University of Southern Denmark. He is funded by three Danish foundations as part of their efforts to attract international capacities to Denmark. Most recently the Villum Foundation has granted him 25 mil DKK. to research the mysteries of superstrings.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 4/13/2021

Most people find the string theory of physicists completely impossible to understand – even downright counter-intuitive. For how can one get around one’s head that our world is not made up of small three-dimensional building blocks such as atoms, electrons and quarks, but instead made up of vibrating strings in no less than 11 dimensions?

Vivek Shende, Professor of Mathematics, is not only perfectly capable of grasping the idea; he is also doing high-level research on the subject.

He was educated and has done research at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States (Princeton, MIT, University of California, Berkeley), and he has now moved to Odense to continue his work at the University of Southern Denmark.

Capacities to Denmark

His moving to Denmark has drawn in massive support from Danish foundations. The Danish National Research Foundation has allocated DKK 8 million, Novo Nordisk Foundation DKK 6 million, and, as mentioned, the Villum Foundation has donated DKK 25 million.

While the grants are an obvious recognition of Vivek Shende’s key contributions to mathematical research, they are also an expression of an effort to attract capacities to Danish research institutions and allow them to establish fruitful research environments that can attract even more talented researchers and students.

We do not have any mathematical language to describe the world of quantum physics yet. Therefore, we cannot put it into writing, which makes it difficult to make good use of quantum physics.

Vivek Shende, Professor

Mathematics is the basis for describing and understanding the world we live in. Classical mathematics thus describes classical physics, e.g. the laws of nature.

But when it comes to quantum physics, which does not follow the laws of nature at all, classical mathematics falls short. This is where mathematicians like Vivek Shende are needed.

– We do not have any mathematical language to describe the world of quantum physics yet. Therefore, we cannot put it into writing, which makes it difficult to make good use of quantum physics, Vivek Shende explains.

Not that there isn’t plenty of use for quantum physics. Just as classical physics has led to gigantic leaps forward, e.g. the industrial revolution, quantum physics can also lead to enormous changes in our society, such as computers that are a billion times more powerful than today.

The mysterious superstrings

And then you have superstrings, which, if anything, are even more mysterious than the phenomena of quantum physics.

– String theory allows us some predictions, which we are unable to verify because we do not have the mathematical tools to do so. My grant from Villum will allow me to attempt to find such mathematical tools and see if the predictions can be verified.

– If they can, they can help us one day provide mathematical proof of string theory and thus of how our world is built at the sub-atomic level, says Vivek Shende.

In the US, mathematics research is often something you do on your own or perhaps a with a colleague, while Denmark offers great opportunities to form large research groups.

Vivek Shende, Professor

This is the first time he will be living in a country other than the United States, but he has been on several research stays around the world. Whether he is living in London, Tokyo, Shanghai or Odense does not make much of a difference to him. The important thing is having inspiring colleagues around you.

– There is a very exciting environment at the Centre for Quantum Mathematics at SDU, and it is quite unique to have the opportunity to gather talented colleagues and students around me.

– In the US, mathematics research is often something you do on your own or perhaps a with a colleague, while Denmark offers great opportunities to form large research groups.

Early start in mathematics

Vivek Shende has wanted to be a mathematician for as long as he can remember. When he was sent to a psychologist at the age of 3-4 because he was unable to sit still in kindergarten, the psychologist began by testing his ability to concentrate.

– In the US, children who are unable to sit still are always believed to have ADHD, so I got tested for that, too. My parents have told me that I loved the tests I was given by the psychologist and asked for more.

– He found out pretty quickly that I had no concentration problems, and suggested my parents find a mathematician to keep me company.

Mathematics is a quiet, pure temple

Vivek Shende and his new mathematician friend played chess together, and they talked about geometry and solved various mathematical problems together.

– It was at that point it dawned upon me that one could become a mathematician, and that’s what I wanted to do.

The rest is history, as they say, and now Vivek Shende has become a Professor of Mathematics at the age of 37.

– Mathematics is almost a religious experience for me. It’s like entering a quiet, clean temple with beautiful architecture and nothing else. There's only me, my pencil and a piece of paper.

Meet the researcher

Vivek Shende is a professor of mathematics at Center of Quantum Mathematics, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. His research focuses on the mathematical aspect of string theory.

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Editing was completed: 13.04.2021