Ben-Gurion University selected as part of $30 million quantum physics fund

Professor Ron Folman has spent the past 20 years trying to find the connection between the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

The interior of the Library at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. Credit: Irina Opachevsky Irina/Shutterstock.
The interior of the Library at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva. Credit: Irina Opachevsky Irina/Shutterstock.

Professor Ron Folman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel was selected as one of 11 researchers to receive a collective fund totaling $30 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Simons Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation to fund innovative “tabletop” experiments, many of which will explore realms of physics typically probed by large-scale facilities.

His research will receive $2.6 million from the fund and lead the development of a nanodiamond spatial interferometer to help resolve the disconnect between quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity by performing spin-based interferometry measurements.

Folman, who has spent the past 20 years trying to find the connection between the general theory of relativity (gravity) and quantum mechanics, said that “these two pillars have been tested by numerous experiments throughout the last century and have been found to be accurate. The problem now is that in order to have a true understanding of nature, we need to understand how these two pillars work together.”

At Ben-Gurion University, Folman is head of the Atom Chip Laboratory, the Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and Ben Marandy Chair in Quantum Physics and Nanotechnology, as well as founder of the Weiss Family Laboratory for Nanoscale Systems.

Professor Ron Folman
Professor Ron Folman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Credit: Courtesy.

He said that such a grant “isn’t given without the confidence in the capabilities of the research group. This is real recognition of our capabilities that we’ve shown over the past 20 years and validates the work we’ve done. Furthermore, this grant now enables us to embark on one of the most fascinating experiments that one can perform in order to further understand physics and nature.”

By pooling their resources and expertise, the foundations have magnified the impact of their grantmaking and are able to collectively fund more projects. Each of the projects will receive funding for up to five years, with the four foundations together pledging $30 million for all the undertakings.

“Professor Folman’s selection as part of such an esteemed fund is testament to Ben-Gurion University’s renowned multi-disciplinary research efforts, which fuel Israeli innovation and enhance our understanding of the world—and in this case, the universe—as we know it,” said Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University.

The newly funded projects, selected from a large number of proposals, include hunting for dark matter, building ultra-precise atomic clocks, and examining the intersection of general relativity and quantum mechanics. These ambitious experiments all aim at expanding the frontiers of fundamental physics while still fitting into a typical room-sized university physics research lab.

Other researchers and institutions that make up the collective fund include David DeMille of the University of Chicago; Gurudev Dutt of the University of Pittsburgh; Giorgio Gratta and Jason Hogan of Stanford University; Gavin Morley of the University of Warwick; Lyman Page of Princeton University; Michael Tarbutt of Imperial College London; Karl van Bibber of the University of California, Berkeley; Amar Vutha of the University of Toronto; and Jun Ye of the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) is a public research university in Beersheva, Israel. It has five campuses: the Marcus Family Campus; the David Bergmann Campus; the David Tuviyahu Campus; the Sede Boqer Campus; and the Eilat Campus. Some of its research institutes include the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev; the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology; the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research with the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies; and the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism.
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