School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Te Kura Matū Seminar Series

Why is our World apparently classical? The World of Decoherence.


Prof Philip Stamp


Department of Physics and Astronomy, Pacific Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of British Columbia, Canada

Time & Place

Tue, 22 May 2018 14:00:00 NZST in Room 531, Level 5, West Building (formerly Rutherford)

All are welcome


Decoherence is widely advocated as a panacea to explain how complex quantum systems behave classically, and even to explain the infamous “quantum measurement problem”. Viewed as a physical process, decoherence is widely recognized to be the single biggest obstacle to quantum computing. It is also discussed in contexts as varied as the early universe, nanoscience, biophysical systems, and large-scale quantum phenomena in condensed matter and optical systems.  Only very recently has any kind of predictive theory been formulated here, and some quantitative agreement between this theory and real experiments for complex quantum systems has been found (principally for quantum optical and magnetic systems). At the same time, the dream of a working quantum computer is starting to show signs of being realized; and perhaps one day tests of decoherence phenomena in the early universe may be possible.

But how does decoherence actually work, and what are the mechanisms causing it? And is decoherence really “the answer to all our problems”? This talk will introduce the audience to the big questions here, and to some of the answers that have been provided to it.


Philip completed his primary education in New Zealand (where he lived until 1969) and his secondary education was in Edinburgh, Scotland (1969-1972), & in Lancaster, England (1972-75).  He completed his D. Phil., in Theoretical Physics, Nov. 1983, University of Sussex, UK

Academic History:- Philip was hired into his first academic appointment at UBC (Vancouver, Canada) in 1990 but given the opportunity of a reduced teaching load with a URF fellowship jointly funded by NSERC and the University. This was made a joint Asst. Prof/URF position in 1992. He was granted tenure in June 1997. He spent the period Dec 1992-June 1993 in Princeton University, the period Apr-June 1994 in MIT, and the period 1997-98 in the European "Institut Laue-Langevin" (Grenoble, France), each time as a visiting Professor.

Near the end of 1999 he moved to a joint position- a Spinoza Chair in Condensed Matter theory at the Spinoza institute (University of Utrecht), and a tenured full Professorship in the faculty of Physics and Astronomy (University of Utrecht). The Spinoza professorship also involved running the Spinoza institute jointly with G. 't Hooft and E. Verlinde, and teaching relief for 5 years was associated with this position.

The move to UBC in 2002 was part of a large initiative in theoretical physics by that university, in which a plan for a new theoretical physics institute was also involved. The PITP began operations in earnest at the beginning of 2003, and has now raised considerable money, and organized a large number of workshops, summer schools, and conferences. Philp is the director of this institute.

Note that from 1995-99, and from 2002 onwards, part of his salary was being paid by the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research (CIAR). He is presently a member of 2 CIAR programs ("Quantum Materials", formerly "superconductivity", since 1995, and "Nanoelectronics" since 2000). During his time in Utrecht he was a foreign member of these programs.