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DFG funding

New Research Units

München, 07/22/2016

Two new DFG Research Units at LMU, led by Professors Immanuel Bloch and Frank Fischer, respectively, focus on quantum many-body systems exposed to artificial fields, and on use of simulations in the teaching of diagnostic competences.

Professor Frank Fischer / Professor Immanuel Bloch

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft has agreed to finance two new Research Units at LMU. The first will be devoted to “Artificial Gauge Fields and Interacting Topological Phases in Ultracold Atoms”, and will be led by Professor Immanuel Bloch, who holds the Chair of Quantum Optics in the Faculty of Physics, and is a Director of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, where he heads the Division on Quantum Many-Body Systems. The second, in which the Technical University of Munich will also participate, will be directed by Frank Fischer, Professor of Education and Educational Psychology at LMU, and is dedicated to “Facilitating diagnostic competences in simulation-based learning environments in higher education”.

Exploring the dynamics of many-body systems

Gauge fields are an indispensable tool for the description of fundamental physical phenomena in settings ranging from high-energy physics to condensed-matter physics. The application of laser fields to ultracold atomic gases results in the generation of artificial gauge fields that affect the motions of the atoms. Thanks to their flexibility and ease of tunability in ultracold quantum gases, such gauge fields are particularly useful for the analysis of the behavior of quantum many-body systems exposed to such gauge fields.

The aim of the new Research Unit on Artificial Gauge Fields and Interacting Topological Phases in Ultracold Atoms is to exploit artificial gauge fields to theoretically explore and experimentally generate new topological phases – i.e. certain exotic states – of many-body systems, says Immanuel Bloch. The researchers will utilize state-of-the-art experimental, analytical and numerical methods to simulate and characterize the behavior of strikingly unusual states of matter, such as topological insulators and superfluids. They also hope to develop new approaches to study the peculiar transport properties and the puzzling excitations that arise in these systems, and investigate the interactions between artificial gauge fields and atoms. Bloch and his colleagues are confident that the close cooperation between experimentalists and theorists involved in the new Research Unit will enable them to significantly extend our current understanding of topological states of matter, and perhaps point the way to the future application of these phases in fields such as quantum information processing and spintronics.

Facilitating diagnostic competences in simulation-based learning environments

The Research Group led by Frank Fischer will explore how, in the context of university curricula, simulations can best be designed to enable students to acquire vital professional skills. The project will focus on developing simulations for the teaching of diagnostic competences to medical students and trainee teachers. Although there are obvious differences between a doctor who is trying to discover the underlying cause of a patient’s illness and a teacher who wants to work out why one of her pupils is underperforming in class, there are also certain parallels: Both physician and educator seek to collect and collate all relevant information so as to reduce the level of uncertainty and arrive at the decision best supported by the evidence. “Traditional university study programs offer students comparatively few opportunities for independent decision-making in practical situations. Hence they do not, as yet, prepare students optimally for the challenges they will face when confronted with problems of diagnosis in real life,” says Fischer.

Simulations enable the participants to make their own decisions, but learning success in this context depends on whether or not they receive the appropriate support in evaluating the information available. “The problem is that there have been relatively few experimental studies of the causal relationships between the formal design of simulations (such as the inclusion of dedicated periods for reflection in order to relieve the pressure on participants), the process of diagnosis itself, and the acquisition of general diagnostic competences. In addition, it is not clear to what extent correlations and effects depend on individual variation in basic cognitive skills – such as working memory – on the one hand, and contextual elements of the simulation on the other.” Whether or not the diagnosis is arrived at by a single individual, or in consultation with others, would be one example of the latter variable. To tease out the links between these disparate factors, the Research Group plans to carry out several studies with over 3000 participants.

Both the Research Group’s personnel and its work program are decidedly interdisciplinary in character. Specialists in the fields of Biology, Physics, Mathematics, Psychology and Medicine will work together. This close interaction will also facilitate assessment of the transferability of findings between the domains of medicine and education.

For more information, see:

The light conductor

In one ear and out the other

Lessons from the Laboratory: LMU Science Cast on the work of Frank Fischer