Yale Scientist Jack Harris Named Among Discover’s ‘20 Under 40’

Yale physicist Jack Harris has demonstrated that one doesn’t have to be a research veteran to push back the frontiers of science.

Like Einstein, who was only 26 years old when he came up with the theory of special relativity, Harris — an assistant professor of physics and applied physics — is helping to transform his field. He has been included in Discover magazine’s list of the top 50 scientists conducting cutting-edge research in America today.

In the magazine’s December issue, Harris was named one of the “20 Under 40” young visionaries in science. A member of the Yale faculty since 2004, he studies quantum motion.

“What I find interesting about quantum mechanics is that it tells us in very certain terms that the world is quite different from how we perceive it,” says Harris. “It tells us that individual objects can be in multiple places at once, that they can pass discretely through barriers and that they always ‘know’ when you are looking at them. My work is an effort to take these weird ideas and make them appear on a visable scale — such as in the motion of a millimeter-sized object.”

For one of his research projects, Harris measures the force exerted by individual photons, or “particles” of light, on tiny micromechanical mirrors that swing backward with each “kick” delivered by the photons. It is a measurement that no one has ever made before, as the amount of force exerted by a single photon is staggeringly small. If Harris can succeed in producing something called “squeezed light” — an exotic type of light which can be made by bouncing individual photons off these mirrors — it would be a coveted resource for applications ranging from unbreakable encryption systems to measuring trace amounts of toxic chemicals in the environment.

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