Thomas Dumitrescu, UCLA assistant professor of physics, is one of the founding principal investigators of the Simons Collaboration on Global Categorical Symmetries, which was recently established by the Simons Foundation with an award of $8 million over the next four years, and is renewable for three additional years.

Symmetry is a powerful tool for organizing physical phenomena, and anchors our understanding of the laws of nature. Research in this field has seen remarkable advances in mathematics and physics in recent years, much of which has been driven by the quest to achieve a deeper understanding of quantum field theory — the universal language of modern theoretical physics. 

“Recent research in quantum field theory — including my own — has shown that our notion of what constitutes a symmetry should be generalized in various ways,” said Dumitrescu, a member of UCLA’s Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics, and holder of the Mani L. Bhaumik Presidential Endowed Term Chair in Theoretical Physics. “Even physical systems that have been studied for decades turn out to possess some of these new symmetries. This is exciting, because more symmetry means that we can better predict the behavior of such systems, even if they are very complicated and not amenable to conventional solution techniques.”

These and other developments indicate that sophisticated modern mathematics — higher category theory and topological quantum field theory — are the natural language with which to leverage the power of these symmetries, he said. 

The collaboration, directed by Constantin Teleman, professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley, consists of 20 physicists and mathematicians who conduct research across disciplinary boundaries, working at universities in North America, Europe and Japan.