Business partners in a mission of gravity

Monte Stewart
September 14, 2022

Global physics researchers and Canadian business leaders have joined forces to push the benefits of quantum gravity theory and advance potentially, but unpredictable, world-changing discoveries.

The nascent Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society touted the theory at the group’s first week-long conference in mid-August in the West Coast city.  Vancouver has become the new home of the QG Collection, which is billed as the world’s largest known historical assemblage of audio-visual materials, scientific papers, documents and lectures on the topic.

Leaders hope to develop research hub

The society’s leaders are aiming to make Vancouver a global quantum gravity research hub and spark international collaborations.

Society co-founder Terry Hui, CEO of Vancouver-based real estate development company Concord Pacific, told Research Money that the society will “fill the gap” between ideas, experiments and full-blown research projects.

“I think it’s important for the experimentalists and the theorists to collaborate,” he said. “A lot of times, it’s easier to get funding when you have some project. Before that, it’s a long process for theorists and experimentalists to come together.”

Hui, holds an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. The real estate mogul said his involvement with the Quantum Gravity Society offers “a little bit of redemption” after he decided to “sell out early” on a career in physics.

Once quantum gravity is solved, Hui said, it will be possible to design and build things that are not possible to predict now.

An attempt to marry two theories

Quantum gravity attempts to merge Albert Einstein’s general relativity theory with quantum mechanics. General relativity, which explored the theory of space, time and gravity, led to comprehensive knowledge of the cosmos and is viewed as the driver of space travel, global positioning systems, and satellites.

Quantum mechanics involves the study of subatomic light and matter. The Quantum Gravity Society touts the field's central role in electronics, lasers, computers, cell phones, plastics, as well as underlying technologies of transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, and energy systems.

For about a century, quantum gravity researchers have been attempting — and failing — to bridge seemingly incompatible aspects of general relativity and quantum mechanics. That point prompted a session topic at the conference: Why should people care about quantum gravity now?

“Well, I think the key to pulling this off, understanding quantum gravity, is going to be a combination of the observation experiment and the theory,” said U.S. Nobel laureate Kip Thorne, during the conference’s public session in August. “And there's been an enormous amount of effort on theory — until now. We're on the verge of having observational data relevant to it.”

Dr. Thorne, a California Institute of Technology physics professor emeritus, served as executive producer of the Hollywood blockbuster Interstellar, which was based on his idea. He and the society’s founders expressed a common view during the conference’s public session: quantum gravity’s benefits are unknown now, and may take a long time to discover, but they will drastically change the world.

“Quantum gravity, in my view, is tremendously important because of the applications that it will have,” said Dr. Thorne. “And, it controls the birth of the universe. … So, really, the payoffs, in terms of applications, are going to be enormous.”

Dr. Thorne said technology is manipulating quantum states of matter in such a way that researchers may be able to use the manipulations to get a handle on the laws of quantum gravity.

“So this is a time when you have both cosmological observations but also in-laboratory experiments — the possibility to actually bring to bear observations of how the universe behaves together with the theory," he said. "That enables what I hope is likely to be major progress on the laws of quantum gravity in the coming several decades.”

University of British Columbia physics professor Philip Stamp, a society co-founder who played a leading role in recruiting Hui and other business leaders, said during a public session of the conference that a U.S. version of the non-profit society was formed “a long time ago.” However, the Canadian arm only came into being August 16, after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans for the Canadian society’s birth, the move of the Quantum Collection from the U.K. and the conference.

No guarantee of huge gains

The conference also attracted two other Nobel Laureates, Canada’s Jim Peebles and Britain’s Sir Roger Penrose, who appeared via Zoom. Dr. Peebles, an astrophysicist, astronomer and theoretical cosmologist who won a 2019 Nobel prize for his discoveries related to cosmology, said it seems clear that quantum gravity will help researchers discover the causes of black holes, or dark energy, in the universe and, as a result, the birth of the universe. But there is no guarantee that such discoveries will occur.

Dr. Peebles, an 87-year-old Princeton professor emeritus who still writes research papers and goes to his office most days, told Research Money that many researchers are seeking funding for highly specialized quantum gravity studies.

“Because I don't think anyone has a good idea of just how [quantum gravity research] will be set up,” he said. “How will it work? What will we be able to do with it? You need not only fast computation, but you need to store the results. And, these days, the storage of data is out of sight from what I've ever experienced.”

Accordingly, he questioned whether quantum gravity will sow the huge gains that Dr. Thorne and the society’s founders expect.

“There's lots of talk of quantum computation,” said Dr. Peebles. “That's a real prospect. Really, I think it's going to happen. How will it affect our lives? Will it be in minor details to you and me, like encryption? Maybe that will have broader applications. I don't know. How can you foresee? It will have an effect. Whether it will be big or small, I don't know.”

A Quantum Gravity Society news release suggested that, by solving the mystery of quantum gravity, researchers could spark new technologies that might alter communications, food growth, the transportation of people and goods, and energy production. Dr. Peebles said human curiosity and optimism prompt people to make such as-yet unverifiable claims. He hopes that quantum gravity surprises people.

“Optimism may be justified,” he said. “We’ll see.”


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