Joseph Natale: Pushing the Boundaries from Quantum Entanglement to Biological Systems
As a child in Lodi, NJ, Joseph Natale’s fascination with nature drove him headlong into a love of physics. “As I grew up, I realized that the way physicists ask questions and the type of things they want to know about the world—and it’s a very particular way of knowing—corresponded very closely with the things I was naturally curious about,” he says. Even today, as a graduate student at Stevens Institute of Technology, a pure sense of wonder and enthusiasm permeates his inquiry into arcane topics such as quantum entanglement.
The subjects that comprise theoretical physics have occupied the greatest minds in history across numerous fields, and Joseph finds that modern compartmentalization of disciplines to be limiting. “There is often a rigid line drawn between the arts and sciences, or even within the sciences, but I don’t see the world that way. Physicists can and should learn from artists or biologists, and vice versa. Physics should be creative and intuitive as well as being rigorous.” According to Dr. Rainer Martini, Director of the Department of Physics, “We try to train our physics students to detect overall patterns while simultaneously appreciating minute detail, a unique ability that allows them to provide fresh perspectives on problems in a wide range of disciplines. Joseph exhibits this skill as well as an abounding curiosity, so it is natural that he is stimulated by topics within as well as outside the traditional scope of physics.”
Fascinated with the mysteries that underlie natural phenomena, and inspired by the genius of physicists like Einstein and Feynman, Joseph earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics at Stevens and began taking graduate courses before the end of his undergraduate term. He is in the process of finishing up his Master’s research where he focuses on the advanced world of quantum mechanics under the guidance of Dr. Ting Yu. Specifically, Joseph studies entanglement, a quantum phenomenon in which the states of two or more objects are directly related, leading to strong correlations of physical properties in observable systems beyond anything classical physics could predict.
Joseph uses a rock-paper-scissors game as a loose analogy. “Let's say my opponent's move is perfectly correlated to my own. Knowing this, I would be able to perfectly predict the outcome of every game before even playing!”
“Twenty-five to thirty years ago, no one imagined that any of this would be possible,” says Dr. Yu. “The kind of bold and imaginative thinking that I see in Joseph and other young aspiring physicists is really what has brought us to this point, so I envision that their participation today will help drive us toward the ultimate realization of powerful tools from these promising theories.”
Mastering quantum entanglement may hold the key to revolutionary technologies such as quantum computers and quantum cryptography, and perhaps beyond. Recently, scientists have found evidence of quantum entanglement in the biological process of photosynthesis, where sunlight is converted to energy at unprecedented efficiency. “It is extremely difficult for us to preserve entanglement even for fractions of a second in a controlled environment, and plants seem to have an innate ability to maintain entanglement in uncontrolled circumstances,” says Joseph. This unexpected overlap between physics and biology led Joseph to an important epiphany. “It made me realize that the mechanisms that underlie physics and biology should be universal, and the separation of the disciplines consequently began to feel unconvincing.”
As an avid fitness enthusiast, Joseph has a profound interest in human physiology. His desire to merge this interest with his love of physics led him to a promising research track that he hopes to expand upon as he delves deeper into the field. “There are so many similar situations that arise in complex biological environments and mechanical systems,” he explains. “In fact, there are instances where theoretical physics models have been shown to apply almost directly to biological systems, such as neural networks, adaptive learning, and brain function.”
“Stevens provides me a practical education in addition to an excellent understanding in radical theoretical concepts that will shape future innovations,” says Joseph. “With great teachers and mentors like Dr. Rainer Martini and Dr. Ting Yu, I was able to really ask the questions that interested me and determine the subfield on which I wanted to focus.”
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