The Wilde experience as visiting faculty in 2020
When my wife and I headed out on the long drive from Baton Rouge to Palo Alto back in mid-December 2019, of course we had no idea what was in store for us in 2020. We had heard about a virus spreading in Wuhan, and like much of the rest of the world at the time, we thought there was a chance it might not affect us. So my sabbatical at Stanford started pleasantly enough in January 2020: I was meeting regularly with Prof. Patrick Hayden and his students associated with the Stanford Institute of Theoretical Physics (SITP); I had many discussions about quantum information science and its connections to other topics in physics; we had regular lunch meetings, during which we would talk science and exchange stories and jokes – I was very excited by all of it. Patrick and I were also planning to host a conference on quantum information theory at Stanford, and we were having many discussions about that.
Then boom! March 2020 hit, and all of a sudden, we were on lockdown in Santa Clara County. I had barely learned of an application called Zoom before all meetings became Zoom meetings. Life changed dramatically in so many ways. I focused my research efforts on understanding quantum estimation theory and its applications in quantum metrology. My PhD student Vishal Katariya and I had many discussions over Zoom, and we ended up writing a 170-page paper on the topic. Before my sabbatical started, I was also having regular discussions with Stanford Q-FARM fellow Yihui Quek. In the interest of her safety, Yihui returned home to Singapore and has been there since. So we've coordinated a lot on Zoom and we managed to complete two research projects; one about implementing a simple form of Bayesian inference on a quantum computer and another about understanding the limits of communication over a quantum channel when there is feedback from the receiver to the sender. My PhD student Sumeet Khatri and I also managed to finish a preliminary version of a new textbook on quantum information theory (we posted this 1000-page “monster” to the arXiv recently). I’m proud of all of these projects and they came to fruition in their own unique way.
In June 2020, I had a big and sad surprise. I lost my longtime friend and colleague at LSU, Professor Jonathan P. Dowling, whom I’ve known and worked with since 2006. I thought I would have him for another 20 years at least, and so this was sad for me and for everyone else back at LSU in our quantum science research group. He died from health complications, and we simply don’t know whether he had coronavirus because testing was not available in Louisiana back then. We held an online memorial service on Zoom with his siblings and everyone past and present from our research group. If you’re interested in reading about his funny and unique personality, you can browse the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Comic that was dedicated to him.
The extended lockdown has led me to reflect on many aspects of life, and I’ve had plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery in California, through many hikes and walks. I think y’all are fortunate at Stanford to have so much scenery to explore! My reflections have reminded me how short life can be and that absolutely every one should be treated with respect and dignity. Tell the ones you care about that you love them, and live your life to the fullest.
I plan to return to Stanford for a research visit – hopefully in late 2021. There are so many fascinating directions in quantum information science to explore and so much is going on within Q-FARM; it is really exciting and I’m glad to be a part of it.