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Nov. 6, 2018

Dean Lee: Answering philosophical questions

Nov. 7, 2018

Dean Lee is a professor of physics at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and Department of Physics and Astronomy. Lee recently spoke at the October Board of Trustees meeting about the quantum theory and nuclear structure research being conducted at FRIB.

1. In less than 20 words, what does your research do to support FRIB’s mission?

My research applies fundamental quantum theory and advanced computational methods to predict phenomena to be explored in FRIB experiments.

2. What were you like as a child, and do you think that influenced your interest in nuclear physics?

My parents introduced my older brother and me to mathematics and science at an early age. I was fascinated by the elegant rules that governed how things work. But I was most interested in unsolved problems that seemed too complex or profound to allow for a simple description. This interest carries over to the present day. Nuclear physics is full of unsolved problems, surprising discoveries waiting to be revealed part by part.

3. What is the most effective analogy you have used to help people understand what is gained when humankind explores the issues your research group tackles?

Nuclear physics can answer some deep philosophical questions such as what is the stuff we are made of, how did it get there and how was it made? As we explore these questions we can appreciate the beauty of the underlying principles while viewing even deeper mysteries in the background that prod us further. It is like a journey up a towering mountain with narrow passageways hidden among the boulders and trees, each leading to a more beautiful vista and new perspective on the world.

4. How has your work evolved since joining the faculty at FRIB and MSU?

At FRIB and MSU I am surrounded by many wonderful experimental and theoretical colleagues doing interesting and diverse things. I have also had the pleasure of working with bright postdocs and students. This has led to a broadening of my research program. We ponder and discuss topics such as nuclear structure, nuclear reactions, many-body systems, computational algorithms, mathematical physics, machine learning and quantum computing.

5. When you aren’t exploring the quantum world of atomic nuclei, what are three areas of interest that your students or colleagues may find surprising?

My wife is on the piano faculty at Michigan State, and I have also played the violin and piano as an amateur. We are both involved in organizing music concerts at FRIB through a new initiative called the Advanced Studies Gateway. The Advanced Studies Gateway at FRIB brings together researchers, innovators, creative thinkers, artists and performers from all fields and strengthens ties between Michigan State and the community. Some of my other interests include fitness activities such as weightlifting and running as well as a fondness for animals, which includes taking care of our three dogs and one cat.

Learn more about Lee's work