Macquarie honours visiting physicist Sir Michael Berry

Sir Michael Berry_FEATURE

Left to right: Associate Professor Gabriel Molina-Terriza (Department of Physics and Astronomy); Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Sakkie Pretorius; Sir Michael Berry; Associate Professor Michael Steel (Head of Department, Physics and Astronomy); and Professor Barbara Messerle (Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering).

Famous mathematical physicist Sir Michael Berry was a distinguished guest of Macquarie in April, after being invited by the Macquarie Research Centre of Quantum Science and Technology and the Department of Physics and Astronomy to share his extensive knowledge of quantum mechanics and his own mathematical discoveries.

Sir Michael formulated the geometrical phase, better known as the ‘Berry phase’, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics for which he was awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize – often equated to a Nobel Prize among mathematicians. Now, Sir Michael can add another prize to his collection, having just been awarded the prestigious Macquarie University Moyal Medal last week.

“I never met Joe Moyal, but knew what he is best known for: expressing quantum mechanics in an unusual way. Indeed I cited and developed this work in a paper exactly 40 years ago. Now, visiting Macquarie, I discover that his scientific achievements range far more widely, and moreover that he was a strong and fascinating character. Therefore it is a particular honour to be chosen to receive the medal named after him,” explained Sir Michael.

An avid science communicator, Sir Michael now travels the world speaking about quantum mechanics to fellow professors and the public alike. At his recent public lecture on campus he discussed how combining technology with quantum physics can lead to an array of discoveries. His own ‘Berry phase’ has led to applications in aviation, the rotation of pendulums, and quantum computers.  He has also been heavily involved in expanding the culture of science in developing countries, a project which deeply reflects his ability to foster the desire to understand our world.

“Scientists who communicate science to non-experts should realise that there are several such publics: practical technical people (electricians, plumbers, builders), nonscientific intellectuals (literary, artistic, philosophical), taxi-drivers (my father was one). They require different approaches. Common to all is respect for their mentality and the need to avoid the technical jargon that is familiar to us but turns them off. It’s a challenge, but worthwhile,” said Sir Michael.

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