Researchers receive $8 million to study fundamental science of waves

The University of Minnesota announced today an award of $8 million over the next four years from the Simons Foundation to an international collaboration. The project, called the Simons Collaboration on Localization of Waves, will be headquartered at the University of Minnesota and will bring together top experts from around the world to study the fundamental science of waves.

The award commences on Sept. 1, and the entire international team will gather at the University of Minnesota on Sept. 1-3 for the collaboration kick-off meeting.

“Waves are all around us—light, sound, and mechanical vibrations. Waves affect everything from our WiFi to microwave ovens,” said Svitlana Mayboroda, a University of Minnesota Northrop Professor in the School of Mathematics who will lead the collaboration.

Quantum mechanics reveals that, at the atomic level, all matter has a wavelike character. Moreover, at the cutting edge of today’s science, it has become possible to map a material atom-by-atom and to manipulate individual atoms, providing researchers with precise measurements of a world that exhibits a vast array of irregularities—dimensional, structural, orientational and geometric—simultaneously.

For waves, such disorder changes everything. In complex, irregular or random media, waves frequently exhibit an astonishing and mysterious behavior known as ‘localization’—instead of propagating over an extended region, they remain confined in small portions of the original domain.

“By studying waves we hope to learn new ways to control them. This could help us solve some of the most compelling puzzles in modern condensed matter physics and could lead to improvements in everything from noise abatement walls to LEDs,” Mayboroda added.

Researchers say the unprecedented power to control, manipulate, and design, rather than simply observe localization phenomena will radically change the traditional approach to wave propagation across disciplines. Building on a recent theoretical breakthrough called the “localization landscape,” this interdisciplinary collaboration will bring together mathematical tools from harmonic analysis, partial differential equations and probability, with high-performance computational simulations and state-of-the-art experimental investigations of ultra-cold atoms and semiconductors.

“The Nobel Prize in 1977 dealt with the wave localization phenomenon, yet 40 years later, despite considerable advances in the subject, we still notoriously lack tools to fully understand localization of waves and its consequences,” said Doug Arnold, a University of Minnesota McKnight Presidential Professor in the School of Mathematics and member of the collaboration. “We’re hoping this new collaboration can change that.”

In addition to Mayboroda and Arnold, the interdisciplinary team of researchers who are part of the collaboration include:

• Alain Aspect, Institut d’Optique, France
• Guy David, Universite ́ Paris-Sud, France
• Marcel Filoche, E ́cole Polytechnique, France
• Richard Friend, University of Cambridge, England
• David Jerison, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
• Yves Meyer, ENS-Cachan, France
• Jim Speck, University of California Santa Barbara, USA
• Claude Weisbuch, University of California Santa Barbara and E ́cole Polytechnique

“This is an amazingly unique opportunity to bring together the best people in the world who study waves to find new solutions,” Mayboroda said. “In mathematics, you typically get two or three people at the most working together on a given project. This gives us an opportunity to identify shared goals with a much larger and more scientifically diverse group and then approach the problems on all fronts. The Simons Foundation is providing the resources for this major interdisciplinary collaboration because it understands that the results are potentially transformative.”

To read more about the Simons Collaboration on the Localization of Waves, visit the Simons Foundation website.

The Simons Foundation, co-founded in New York City by Jim and Marilyn Simons, exists to support basic—or discovery-driven—scientific research undertaken in the pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world.

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