Office Hours with… Logan Wright

In a Q&A, Yale’s Logan Wright describes his research into physical computation, how it relates to his guitar playing, and why New Haven is a great walking city.
Logan Wright

Logan Wright

Logan Wright, who came to Yale last July, is an applied physicist with big ambitions. He wants to take the power of programming and algorithms to new levels and expand what’s possible with computing.

His long-term goals include creating what he calls “laser brains,” which can efficiently learn and perform neural-network-like calculations, and developing laser-wielding scibots that can tirelessly discover or design new things. He grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, a great place, he says, if “you really enjoy having a lot of time on your hands.”

In the latest edition of “Office Hours,” a Q&A series that introduces new Yale faculty members to the broader community, Wright discusses his research and how it overlaps with his electric guitar playing, how science fiction influenced him, and what makes New Haven a great walking city.

Title Assistant professor of applied physics, Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science
Research interest Physical computation, control, and complexity — mostly with photons
Prior institution NTT Research
Started at Yale July 2023

How would you summarize your research?

Logan Wright: Topically, my research is a sort of weird feedback loop between the physics of complex systems and computer science. With the former category, I am mostly focused on photon physics — the physics and applications of lasers, nonlinear optical waves, entangled photons, all with as many degrees of freedom as possible. With the latter, I am mainly focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially neural networks.

What was the first early science-related thing that sparked your curiosity?

Wright: I grew up in a community that was very literary; there were a lot of famous fiction writers, and I was kind of enamored by that. I read an enormous amount of science fiction as a kid, but eventually I realized that science fiction is not the most stable career path. So I’m doing the next best thing, which I consider to be very hard science fiction. It’s so hard that I have to prove that it is indeed actually doable. 

What brought you to Yale?

Wright: To be sure, Yale is a famous university that has many achievements and world-leading expertise, not least in my fields of interest — lasers, nonlinear and quantum optics, quantum information, cognitive science, control theory. 

But maybe above all, I’ve just had a fantastic impression of people at Yale. There is an exciting start-up energy, especially as Yale expands its engineering. The students are brilliant, driven, inspiring, and fun to be around. I remember reading that Yale students were among the happiest students at any U.S. university — I’m not sure how scientific this is, but anecdotally it seems plausible. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to collaborate with such fantastic young scientists, not to mention the supportive senior colleagues and staff I’ll get to work with in my department and beyond.

You also play electric guitar.

Wright: Yes — there’s a lot of overlap in what I do and music. Both are creative disciplines in their own way, and very much about exploring new ideas. I teach nonlinear optics and lasers, and the electric guitar often features into that, because a lot of the sounds that we hear in modern music — electronic music, or in distorted guitars and stuff like that — actually involve effects that distort the waveform in a similar way that laser waveforms are distorted by interacting with matter. So there are some nice connections there, and I always like that we could actually hear that in the music.

What’s the best non-work-related thing you've discovered since coming to Yale?

Wright: My partner and I really like that New Haven has a lot of diversity in terms of where you can walk to and what you can see in a very short distance. I really enjoy living in New Haven. I previously lived in places where you’d need a car. I lived in Palo Alto for a while, and it’s very frustrating that there’s no public transit; if you want to walk anywhere, it’s impossible because, number one, there are no sidewalks, and number two, everything requires six hours of walking. Here, it’s an old, small city. Any business I need to do, I can walk from here, to campus, to there… That’s been an upgrade in my lifestyle.

What is the best New Haven pizza?

Wright: I like that there is a diverse ecosystem, there is creativity and passion and depth. But I don’t know which pizza is the best. I’m open to collecting data though — especially if we can talk about research while doing it.

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