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Einstein a go go

by: Harry Rubenstein - Last updated: 2005-01-14

Dr Dorit Aharonov

Dr Dorit Aharonov

Dr Dorit Aharonov of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem has been chosen as one of four young theorists to be profiled in the latest issue of the prestigious British science journal Nature. The journal's special issue marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of three of Albert Einstein's landmark theories, when the acclaimed genius was only 26.

Aharonov's work focuses on a new computational model based on the law of quantum physics that has caused a revolution in the theory of computer science.

Although quantum computers exist on a small scale, they are only capable of performing very simple tasks. Qantum computers would be able to solve computational problems faster than any standard computer. Laboratories worldwide are trying to create large-scale quantum computers, and many scientists are using the theories developed by Aharonov and others.

Aharonov's research focused on overcoming the main problem facing quantum computers: large-scale quantum systems are sensitive to errors whose effect might ruin the computation process. Aharanov said she hopes that her research will help develop new techniques for solving difficult computational problems with the help of the laws of quantum physics.

"The first challenge is building these computers, and the second challenge is finding more positive uses for these computers when they are built. The third issue that I am addressing is what will be the affect of our understanding of quantum physics in general," Aharonov said.

Aharonov said there are inaccuracies and errors in every physical system, and the question is whether a quantum computer can be protected from these errors. Her research has shown this is not a problem in theory.

But she said such computers still are "far from realization."

The 34-year-old, American-born scientist completed an undergraduate degree in Physics and Math at Hebrew University and began post graduate work in Physics at the Weitzman institute in Rehovot but had a difficult time finding a topic she could really connect to. Aharonov decided that she wanted to explore brain research and met with Dr. Michael Ben-Or of Hebrew University.

"When I spoke with him, he told me about quantum computing instead of the brain. It immediately caught my attention. It was something that combined what I really wanted to study - philosophy, physics and mathematics," she said. "It's a very interdisciplinary field."

Ben-Or was so impressed with Aharonov, he not only ended up advising her on her PHD, but became her collaborator as well.

When she was younger, Aharonov had been interested in philosophy, and her current research allows her to address philosophical questions alongside mathematics, a combination she says she finds fascinating.

"The field brings together ideas from physics and mathematics to investigate fundamental questions, such as: What is the computational power of nature and how does the transition between classical and quantum physics occur?" she said. "Studying this field to me is an opportunity to actually understand quantum mechanics better and maybe even test it. Right now, we only test small parts of quantum physics and quantum computers will take us to further corners of the theory that we will be able to test."

Aharonov expressed satisfaction at her selection by Nature, and said it represented a justification of her work.

"This shows the great importance that the world scientific community attributes to quantum computation," she said.

The three other young researchers - all under 35 - chosen by the journal were from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Martin Bojowald of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany.

It's probably only coincidence that Aharonov was the only one who grew up on Albert Einstein Street in Haifa.

Reprinted with permission from ISRAEL21c -