Juan Maldacena, Pondering Quantum Gravity by the Pond

Grand ideas have a way of turning up in unusual settings, far from an office or a chalkboard. Months ago, Quanta Magazine set out to photograph some of the world’s most accomplished scientists and mathematicians, including Juan Maldacena, Carl P. Feinberg Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, in their favorite places to think, tinker and create. This series explores the role of cherished spaces — public or private, spare or crowded, inside or out — in clearing a path to inspiration.

As a young professor at Harvard University in 1997, Juan Maldacena reshaped fundamental physics with the discovery that, as he put it, “you can create a universe in a bottle.”

The Argentinian-American theorist found a mathematical correspondence between a certain bendy, bounded space-time environment — the universe in the bottle — and a special quantum theory describing particles on the bottle’s rigid surface, which seems to project the dynamic interior like a hologram. Maldacena’s discovery has enabled physicists to probe black holes and quantum gravity inside the imaginary bottled universe by studying corresponding properties of the gravity-free surface.

Maldacena, 48, whom Leonard Susskind, former Member in the School of Natural Sciences, calls “the master,” is still quietly pondering. “I mostly think in my office,” he said. “But sometimes I can walk by the lake to help clear my mind.”

Read more at Quanta.