Nicole Yunger Halpern Ponders Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Everything Else

There is a well-known saying, of disputed origin(link is external), that dissuades students and even working physicists from thinking too deeply about the meaning behind quantum physics. “Shut up and calculate,” it goes. Nicole Yunger Halpern, an affiliate of JQI and the newest Fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS), was never one to abide by this mantra.

Instead, Yunger Halpern, who is also a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, brings a vast intellectual curiosity to physics, from tackling abstract theory to collaborating with experimentalists, all the while drawing distinct connections between diverse disciplines of physics. She also brings her research to life through writing, imbuing it with historical, philosophical, and even artistic context.Photo by John T. Consoli/University of MarylandPhoto by John T. Consoli/University of Maryland

Her self-titled research direction—at the intersection of quantum information theory and thermodynamics—is “quantum steampunk,” after the steampunk genre of literature, art and film that envisions a 19th century world where steam engines power futuristic gadgets, like flying boats and robots. Her book(link is external) of the same title is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2022. She will discuss it at the physics colloquium on Tues., March 29 at 4 p.m. in room 1412 of the John S. Toll Physics Building. 

Thermodynamics, developed largely in the 19th century, is the “steam” in Yunger Halpern’s research, merging with the futuristic science non-fiction that is quantum mechanics. Quantum thermodynamics explores how quantum mechanics can impact and enhance thermodynamic problems, such as channeling energy and heat to perform work, and it raises new questions about information transfer in the process. “What steampunk fans dream,” Yunger Halpern writes in her Ph.D. thesis(link is external), “quantum-information thermodynamicists live.”

On top of helping bridge the 19th and 21st centuries, Yunger Halpern brings the tools of quantum information thermodynamics to other disciplines. Her work on quantum scrambling(link is external) is relevant to black hole physics; her thermodynamic theories(link is external) straddle physics and chemistry; experimental realizations of her proposals have brought collaborations with condensed matter(link is external) and atomic, molecular and optical physicists(link is external); her studies of quantum mechanics have touched on information theory(link is external); her work on thermodynamics ventures into machine learning(link is external); and she’s even proposed an idea for quantum voting(link is external).

Yunger Halpern’s voracious appetite for ideas from diverse disciplines dates to her childhood in Florida. “I grew up reading basically all the time,” she recalls. “I would read while waiting for my parents to pick me up from school; while standing in line; and while in restaurants, waiting for food to arrive. I was interested in everything.”

As early as high school, thermodynamics caught Yunger Halpern’s eye. She remembers learning about entropy, a measure of disorder in a collection of particles, in a biology class. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy, once it increases, can never go back down—a familiar concept to anyone who’s ever tried to stuff toothpaste back into the tube or unscramble an egg.

Some physicists believe that this irreversibility is what gives time its forward direction. “I’m fascinated by entropy,” Yunger Halpern says, “because it’s this abstract concept, quantified with a funny-looking function, but it has such important real-life implications.”

Yet, despite the early fascination with entropy and a high school physics class she loved, Yunger Halpern was still not willing to put on academic blinders after enrolling at Dartmouth College. “Two physics professors helped me design a major that enabled me to view physics from many perspectives,” she explains. “It was partway between the standard physics major and the create-your-own major.” The bespoke major included conventional physics courses combined with some math, philosophy and history.

It was a history of science class in her final term at Dartmouth that further pushed Yunger Halpern to make physics her primary focus, and to pursue graduate school. She was the only student in the class with a scientific background, and she noticed this gave her a different perspective on the course. “I couldn’t help noticing that I understood these topics more deeply than my classmates,” she says, “and I realized that I wouldn’t have been satisfied if I’d learned the material strictly at the level required for the history course.”

Similarly, she realized, she wouldn’t be satisfied if she refrained from studying a host of other topics—cosmology, field theory, etc.—at the level required of a physics student. “So, I was determined to remain a physics student—to study physics more deeply,” she says.

After completing her degree at Dartmouth, Yunger Halpern continued to follow a somewhat unconventional path. She spent a year as a research assistant at Lancaster University in England, followed by a one-year master’s program at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. After starting a Ph.D. program at Caltech, she spent another semester as a visiting graduate student in Oxford, England.

It was during her master’s studies that Yunger Halpern had her first taste of combining quantum information theory with thermodynamics, under the guidance of then-postdoc Markus P. Müller and faculty member Robert Spekkens. They made use of quantum resource theories—a set of mathematical tools that look at quantum objects as resources that can be spent to accomplish a task—as a framework for thermodynamics(link is external).

Yunger Halpern reveled in the interdisciplinary nature of the work, as well as its real-world relevance. “That project was exactly the springboard that I’d sought to embark on research in quantum information theory and thermodynamics,” she says.

This set the course for her quantum steampunk career.

Propelled forward by her deepening passion, Yunger Halpern attended graduate school at Caltech under the mentorship of John Preskill, a giant in the field of quantum information science. “At the time, I was interested in a very theoretical, abstract flavor of quantum thermodynamics,” she explains. “Very few researchers in the United States supported it. But I told John what I wanted to do, and he said, ‘Ok. Do it.’ I felt that I’d have the freedom and support to undertake the research that I felt drawn to.”

This freedom brought her to a key insight(link is external) at the intersection of two seemingly disparate questions—how much work you have to do to push a collection of particles into a different configuration (like squeezing toothpaste into a travel-sized tube) and what happens when information is thrown into a black hole. Simply put, both processes depend crucially on the direction of time, like the toothpaste that won’t go back in the tube. Noticing this connection allowed Yunger Halpern to derive an equation relating quantum scrambling—the thing black holes are thought to do with information—to something that could be measured in the lab. Experiments realizing a simpler version of Yunger Halpern’s protocol were carried out(link is external), not inside a black hole, but in the lab of Kater Murch at Washington University in St. Louis.

Next, Yunger Halpern and her collaborators designed a truly steampunk invention(link is external): an analog of a steam engine that relies on an exotic quantum phase. This phase’s superpower is that it thermalizes very slowly or not at all, akin to an ice cube that stays cold on a warm summer day. It’s a collection of quantum particles that are kept in a box with a jagged and disorderly floor, creating a randomness that prevents the particles from freely bumping into each other and exchanging energy in a phenomenon known as many-body localization (MBL).

Drawing on ideas from her research at Perimeter, Yunger Halpern, with her collaborators, realized that a state that does not thermalize could be used as a resource. The engine, which they called ‘MBL-mobile’, is a four-stroke cycle that takes a collection of quantum particles in and out of the MBL phase to extract work.

At the beginning of her graduate career, alongside her research, Yunger Halpern committed to writing a blog post every month for Caltech’s blog Quantum Frontiers(link is external). This is a habit she’s kept to this day, having recently published her 100th post(link is external).

Through the blog, she’s managed to continue cultivating her lifelong love of writing. “I was writing stories as early as second grade,” she says. “The best physicists I’ve met explain their science in terms of stories colored by a few simple, basic equations, so writing stories about my physics regularly feels natural.”

Yunger Halpern’s blog posts touch on literature, history and anthropology from all over the world, drawing analogies and placing her work as a scientist into a larger context. “It provides a useful creative outlet,” she says. “Physicists value creativity, but there are some things that even we aren’t allowed to write in papers. I can write those things on the blog, which keeps my imagination in high gear and so enhances my physics.”

After Yunger Halpern moved on to a postdoctoral position at Harvard University, her writing landed her a feature story in Scientific American(link is external). Now, her new book, “Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow,”(link is external) is about to hit bookstores nationwide. “The book is almost entirely nonfiction,” she says, “but each chapter begins with a snippet from an imaginary quantum-steampunk novel. I also worked with my editors and illustrator to bring out the steampunk aesthetic of quantum thermodynamics—not only in the explanations, but also in the figures and even in the fonts.”

Photo by John T. Consoli/University of MarylandPhoto by John T. Consoli/University of MarylandAt the University of Maryland, Yunger Halpern looks forward to forging new collaborations with senior researchers as well as training young scientists. “The people at Maryland—the colossal quantum and statistical-mechanics communities—certainly drew me. I have worked with Chris Jarzynski, who’s a wonderful scientist and a wonderful person, and I’ve visited the College Park campus several times over the years because I simply couldn't stay away from the research.”

She is also drawn to Maryland’s interdisciplinary structure, believing it will feed her insatiable drive to connect scientific disciplines. “I’m looking forward to making even more new connections,” she says.

Original story by Dina Genkina: https://jqi.umd.edu/news/nicole-yunger-halpern-ponders-quantum-mechanics-thermodynamics-and-everything-else

Alicia Kollár Bridges Abstract Math with Realities of the Lab

Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematical physicist, once said, “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

Indeed, mathematics may seem abstract or even irrelevant until it’s used to describe the natural world around us. The reverse is occasionally also true: Physical realities, when brought to a mathematician’s attention, can inspire new questions and new discoveries. 

The research of Alicia Kollár, a Chesapeake Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland and a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, embodies the give and take of this relationship between physics and mathematics. In her lab, she brings abstract theories to life and in turn collaborates on new theorems. She has forged a research program of manipulating light on a chip, coaxing the light into behaving as though it lives on the surface of a sphere, or a mathematical abstraction known as a hyperbolic surface. She also collaborates with mathematicians, furthering both the understanding of what these chips can do and their underlying mathematics. 

Alicia KollárAlicia KollárA direct collaboration with pure mathematicians is uncommon for a physicist, particularly an experimentalist. But Kollár is no stranger to mathematics. Raised by two mathematicians in Princeton, New Jersey, she was exposed to the discipline early on. However, Kollár said her parents didn’t pressure her to pursue mathematics growing up. 

“It never crossed my dad’s mind to try to force me to do what he loved,” Kollár said. “He considered that pointless, like ‘You should go into research for you, not for somebody else’s expectations.’” 

Her father, János Kollár, a professor of mathematics at Princeton, had a slightly different take. 

“She was always interested in science, so I didn’t need to apply any influence,” he said. “If she was only interested in rock music it might have been different.”

Free to pursue whatever she pleased (short of rock music), Kollár studied advanced math, but without much enthusiasm. 

“I was fortunate to be able to take quite a bit of college-level pure math as a high schooler,” she said. “And I would say that I think I was good at it, but I didn’t love it. I just kind of didn’t care.” 

What really caught Kollár’s attention was physics. Her high school physics teacher’s style really resonated with her. 

“He was a crusty old dude that loved Far Side cartoons,” she recalled. “And he wouldn’t put up with anybody that was too cool for school. He taught non-calculus physics, but he taught that you have to think about it—not ‘Here’s a method learn how to do it.’ We became really good friends, and I really liked thinking about how it works, you know, the physical intuition part of physics.”

She attended college at Princeton University, remaining in her hometown and further developing her fascination with physics. 

“I was sort of divided between math and physics as a freshman,” Kollár said. “But the more physics I took, I never looked back.”

During her first summer research experience, she was charged with taking apart a telescope mount for a cosmology group. That’s when she found her calling as an experimentalist.  

“I had a lot of fun that summer,” she said, smiling. “I ended up building a 1500-pound steel support structure. I was up to my eyeballs in machine oil and loving every minute of it.”

When applying to graduate schools, Kollár’s soon-to-be Ph.D. adviser Benjamin Lev, now an associate professor of physics and applied physics at Standford University, called her and convinced her to join his lab. He enticed her with the promise that, as an atomic and optical physicist, she could do both theory and experiment side by side. She joined his group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and, in her first year, moved with the whole team to Stanford.

Kollár’s Ph.D. work consisted of building a novel experimental apparatus from scratch, designed to trap atoms and photons together and allow them to influence each other in significant, controllable ways. The resulting experimental setup launched a new direction in its field, according to Lev. 

“From beginning to end, it was just an amazing graduate school experience, where you see something from the inception of the idea to actually showing that this new experimental technique can work,” Lev said. “And she was always a thought partner. We were thinking through the ideas, writing the equations on the board, working with theorists, and she was an equal thought partner on all of that.”

After graduate school, Kollár found herself returning to Princeton. “Princeton is a black hole,” she said. “You can never quite leave. Maybe it’s the Hotel California, you know?”

She became a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Andrew Houck, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a Fellow in the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. Houck worked with coplanar waveguides—little paths printed on a circuit board that confine light in a tube the thickness of a human hair. These paths have become the setting of many of Kollár’s mathematical explorations. 

Kollár was in her office one day, playing around with one of these coplanar waveguide chips. This one contained a waveguide lattice—a repeating grid, one waveguide after the other. Lattices are a familiar concept to physicists from the study of metals, where atomic nuclei form repeating patterns, extending in all three directions.

Kollar’s mathematical training bubbled up, flooding her brain with ideas. She envisioned a similar lattice, but instead of one dimension it would extend in two. And, she realized, thanks to the properties of coplanar waveguides, there was a lot of flexibility in the ways she could shape these grids.  

Instead of being points, as in a conventional lattice of nuclei in a metal, the sites of this lattice were paths—lines that guide light around. And, Kollár could bend and stretch these lines however she wanted without changing the underlying physics, as long as the total length stayed the same. 

Kollár realized that by scrunching and stretching these waveguides, she could connect them to each other in ways that aren’t possible for normal lattices of points, at least not in the world we are used to. Instead, the waveguides would act as though they are on the surface of a sphere, or a mathematical construction known as a hyperbolic surface, where traditional ideas of parallel lines, triangles and navigation break down.  

A hyperbolic surface is, in a sense, the opposite of a sphere. So much so that a two-dimensional hyperbolic surface can’t exist within our three-dimensional world—basically, it doesn’t fit. Kollár said the best way to imagine hyperbolic space is with some of M. C. Escher’s pictures. 

Kollár and her collaborators successfully showed that coplanar waveguides can indeed form lattices that act as though they live on a hyperbolic surface. 

Kollár found that these hyperbolic lattices had some cool physics properties. In particular, she found that they gave rise to something called flat bands—paradoxical places where, regardless of how fast a particle is moving, its energy stays the same. These flat bands are thought to be behind some of the most intriguing unexplained physical effects, like the fractional quantum Hall effect, spin-​liquids, and even some cases of high-temperature superconductivity. 

“When I discovered these flat bands, I actually thought I made a mistake in my code,” Kollár said, “I turned around to my lab partner, and I was like, ‘I think I messed up but if I didn’t, this is really cool.’ And so at the time, we didn't understand where that was coming from. What we've since come to understand is that was really just the tip of the iceberg.”

To understand the full potential of this new technique, Kollár joined forces with Peter Sarnak, professor of mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. This collaboration has proved extremely fruitful. Together, they showed that the flat bands were far from a mistake. In fact, they proved that the flat bands must exist in any hyperbolic lattice of the kind Kollár creates.

“There's been this constant feedback between very general math theorems leading to good examples and then good examples leading to new math theorems,” Kollár said.

Now, she is leading her own group at UMD and is working on coupling bits of quantum information—called qubits—to these exotic lattices. She has assembled a group of like-minded students, interested in addressing novel physics. Although there’s no way to know exactly what the future holds for Kollár, it’s fair to anticipate that she will continue to follow her nose to interesting and unexpected places. 

“I think what was special about Alicia is that she always had her own mind and she did not want to follow what others were doing,” her father, János, said. “It can be frustrating when you're a two-year-old, but I think in the long run if you can follow your own mind very seriously it can work out very well.”

Written by Dina Genkina

Creating an Inclusive Physics Community

When University of Maryland senior physics majors Ela Rockafellow and Kate Sturge entered the lecture hall of their honors math course freshman year, they quickly realized they were two of three women in a room of about 25 people.

All through high school, Rockafellow noticed how the number of women, gender minorities and students of color diminished in her advanced STEM classes, especially physics and math. When she asked her friends why their passion for science had faded, they told her they didn’t feel smart enough for the coursework—and often mentioned specific experiences or interactions that had discouraged them.

Studies show that since the ’90s, young women and men have earned about the same number of math and science high school credits, with women performing slightly better than men in these classes. But men are more likely to take the advanced placement exams to receive college credit. Seeing this themselves, Rockafellow and Sturge wondered how the dynamic could be changed so young members of underrepresented groups would feel empowered to pursue their goals in STEM.

“I think everyone in physics has felt like they’re not smart enough at one point or another,” said Rockafellow, a 2021 Goldwater Scholar. “But the compounded effect of society’s assumption that certain people aren’t as intelligent as others, especially in STEM spaces, can make it significantly more difficult to stay in the field.” 

Crafting a Curriculum

Rockafellow and Sturge, now co-presidents of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), decided to develop a class that would provide undergraduate students with the tools to counter society's assumptions about students in STEM. The idea for the course had initially been raised by attendees in an SPS town hall meeting in fall 2020. As SPS co-presidents, Rockafellow and Sturge decided to push the concept forward and create the course themselves in close collaboration with the director of education for the Department of Physics, Donna Hammer.

For months, Rockafellow and Sturge brainstormed the right course structure with Hammer, determining the necessary elements to make the course a reality. Together, they landed on a one-credit speaker series seminar to pilot the class, which became PHYS 298D: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Physics. 

“The idea was that from listening to a variety of speakers, students would gain a broader perspective, both validating the experience of minority students and increasing empathy and understanding of what minority members of the physics community go through,” Rockafellow explained. “Once we put together a rough outline for a curriculum, we sent it to everybody we knew who knew had experience in DEI work, and we got tons of feedback on how to make the course most effective.” 

To host this seminar, Rockafellow and Sturge first needed to find speakers. Starting with the American Physical Society’s climate report author list, they emailed hundreds of DEI experts to find the right mix of perspectives.

“We ended up getting a lot of really well-known people in the field to come speak just from asking,” Sturge said.

Speakers they chose ranged from Sandy Springs Friends School Head of School Rodney Glasgow to Harvard University Department of the History of Science Chair Evelynn Hammonds to UMD Counseling Center Research Director Yu-Wei Wang. Rockafellow and Sturge publicized the speaker series to SPS and physics department faculty and staff, expanding the reach of each lecture to the greater UMD physics community.

“The seminar format was a natural fit and an exciting student-driven curriculum endeavor,” Hammer said. “Ela and Kate have excellent leadership skills and true dedication to addressing and solving DEI issues.”

When freshman physics major Alejandro Escoto registered for PHYS 298D, he already had some understanding of the challenges underrepresented minorities have faced in physics. But he didn’t realize just how extensive those challenges were. 

“In this class, we explored in-depth why women and people of color have been excluded in physics, how it continues to happen and what each individual can do on a small scale to change that narrative,” Escoto said. “I left the class with a better understanding of how my own privileges play into my navigating of the field and how the things I say will end up affecting other people.”

Plotting the Future Course

For the course’s final project, students proposed projects to advance DEI efforts in their academic communities. For example, Escoto proposed a follow-up course to PHYS 298D on the history of science, focusing on the achievements of a wide range of scientists rather than just white men. 

“There’s a culture of there being one type of physicist,” Sturge said. “Usually, that physicist is white, male, cisgender, straight. That’s the box that you have to fit in. It’s our responsibility to use our privilege as white women to speak up and work toward a goal of dismantling that ideology in physics.” 

With the successful pilot behind them, Rockafellow and Sturge are looking for ways to grow the size of the course the next time it’s taught and they’re revising the PHYS 298D curriculum to meet the Understanding Plural Societies general education requirements. They also hope to continue their outreach work toward building a more diverse, inclusive physics community as they apply to graduate school.

“When you have a bunch of diverse minds together, science really flourishes,” Sturge said. “That’s why this work is important. We’re all working toward a better physics community.”

 Written by Katie Bemb

Growing into a Physicist at UMD

Physics can sometimes come across as the business of cold, calculating geniuses. But it can often be joyful, fun, competitive, engaging and more. Physicists are normal people and each of them has a unique and evolving relationship with their discipline. 

University of Maryland physics graduate student Michael Winer has had a relationship with physics—and physics at UMD in particular—since he was a kid. He first came to UMD as a high school student pursuing his competitive spirit when physics was a fun challenge. Then over time, physics became something more nuanced for him. Now, he has returned to UMD to pursue physics as a career and is also helping introduce the joys of physics to a new generation of bright young minds.

As a kid growing up in Maryland, Winer didn’t have an innate passion for physics. But he did have mathematical talent and a competitive streak. Before getting into physics, he started participating in math competitions when a family friend roped him into a middle school math competition.Michael Winer. Credit: Jess WinerMichael Winer. Credit: Jess Winer

“It was the best thing I've ever been badgered into,” Winer said. “I really liked it, but unfortunately I was not the best at math. So I had to sort of differentiate myself if you will and become the physics guy.”

Winer’s math skills led him to attend Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has a magnet program that offers accelerated courses in science, mathematics and computer science. There, he got his first taste of physics competitions. 

The tests that make up the U.S. Physics Olympiad were the most challenging Winer had ever taken, but his success on the tests in 10th grade—and then again in 11th grade—brought him to nearby UMD where he met several other promising young physics students from across the country. Each year (excepting virtual camps due to COVID-19) UMD hosts students at a training camp where they study physics and have a chance to make the U.S. International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) team.

“In 10th grade, I was really just happy to be there, and it was probably one of the best weeks of my life,” Winer said. “I was just enjoying basking in the glow of all these brilliant people and having all these interesting discussions and learning all these things. And then in 11th grade, I was much more focused on being one of the brightest kids there, making International Physics Olympiad, and then trying to get a gold medal at the International Physics Olympiad.”

In 10th grade, he also took the online course Exploring Quantum Physics with Victor Galitski, a Chesapeake Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics in the Department of Physics at UMD and a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute. Thanks to his positive experience with those two opportunities, Winer ended up reaching out to Galitski and arranging to work on a research project under his mentorship.

He studied how phonons—the quantum particle of sound—interact with electrons, a topic that is essential to understanding what makes superconductors work. That research experience was a radically new experience for Winer. 

He said that he likes to warn young people that research is a completely different beast from what they might be used to from homework or student competitions. 

“There are all sorts of differences,” Winer said. “Maybe you'll be able to solve this in two hours, maybe this will take 200 years, no one knows. And that's a lot of ambiguity, you don't know what you need to know, and you are not just allowed to—but almost always sort of required to—change the question as you're going. It's a completely different experience.” 

That early experience provided inspiration, and by working alongside graduate students, he got a glimpse into the future he is now living.

“By far the most valuable thing was not actually the research but sitting in a room full of grad students,” Winer said. “Sitting in a room with grad students, I think, gives you an insight into academia that just doing physics doesn't. I think you would expect it to sort of destroy the romanticized version I had in my head, but it did not. In fact, to this day, watching other people do physics is very motivating to me and reminds me how much I love doing physics.”

After this first experience with physics research, his passion for physics started yielding tangible rewards. In his sophomore year, he earned a silver medal at IPhO. And then after another summer working with Galitski, he won a first-place medal and $150,000 in the Intel Science Talent Search as a high school senior. 

“Both of those were very, very happy for me,” Winer said. “I did not think I would do well at the Intel contest and was wrong about that. What's interesting is I cared so much about Physics Olympiad. I spent years and years and years dreaming about Physics Olympiad whereas this research prize really just fell in my lap. Like, at no point in my life until it was announced that I had won did I think I would win.” 

After graduating high school and studying physics at MIT, Winer has returned to UMD as a graduate student to tackle much more substantial research. He is working on theories that describe some of the complex physics that play out inside of materials. Working under the mentorship of Galitski and Brian Swingle, an adjunct assistant professor of physics at UMD who is also an assistant professor at Brandeis University, Winer is studying spectral statistics—the distinctive signature that the energy levels of quantum objects collectively imprint on observable properties—in chaotic quantum systems. While it takes much longer to solve the problems he is tackling now, he said he still finds the same joy in learning new physics as he did in his first research experience and studying for the IPhO.

At UMD, Winer has helped mentor two Montgomery Blair students. He said that in addition to helping the students, these experiences have helped him understand his relationship with his own advisors by being on the other side of the table.

He has also given back to the IPhO program by being a coach who both helps write the tests used to select participants and also mentors the selected students. 

Winer said that while his participation as a student in the IPhO was probably helpful in getting to his current position, he thinks that an important part of the event is that it gives kids an opportunity to have fun. 

“Like a sailing club doesn't, you know, justify itself as creating passion for the all-important sailing industry, right?” Winer said. “They just say, ‘The kids are having fun. Let's help some kids have fun.’ And I think we can't forget that. Like, I was a kid, I had a lot of fun. It's good when kids have fun.”

Winer’s advice to any high school students considering studying physics is to try participating in the Physics Olympiad and, if possible, to look for research opportunities with professional physicists.

“You hopefully will discover you like it or at least have the potential to like it,” Winer said. “Then you will grow as a scientist over the course of that and over the course of your college research, and over the course of your grad school research.”

Story by Bailey Bedford

Related news stories: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/montgomery-physics-phenom-tried-not-to-faint-as-he-won-national-award/2015/03/15/550d9bc4-c7e4-11e4-b2a1-bed1aaea2816_story.html