Leading TheoristGambier, Ohio (February 27, 2005) Here's a futuristic thought: Imagine a "quantum computer" that can effortlessly solve problems which would tie up today's supercomputers longer than the age of the universe. Kenyon Professor of Physics Benjamin Schumacher contemplates such notions all the time.
Schumacher has just won another honor for his theoretical work in the emerging field of quantum information science. The American Physical Society has named him a fellow, recognition accorded to fewer than 1 percent of the society's membership every year. In 2002, he received the Fourth International Award on Quantum Communication, the premier scientific honor in the field.
Quantum information science draws on quantum mechanics, information theory, computer science, and other areas to explore new possibilities in information-processing. The field's development depends, in part, on the relentless miniaturization of electronic circuitry, which offers the prospect of devices that function on an atomic scale. At this level, quantum effects -- for instance, the tendency of atoms to behave as if they were in several different places at the same time -- can be exploited to produce marvels ranging from unbreakable codes to, perhaps, an inconceivably fast "quantum computer."
In addition to pursuing his own research, Schumacher oversees student research projects and teaches physics courses at every level. He also occasionally teaches courses for non-science majors. Last fall he offered a course on Einstein in which students explored the special theory of relativity by using "bungee cams" -- dropping wireless video cameras and other objects that were attached to rubber tubing. Schumacher's assessment: "fun."