Discovery trip in the mini-cosmos
When Tobias Meng works out his ideas, they can fill entire folders. The physicist, who holds a doctorate in physics, does not approach his research by immediately using his computer to do some calculations. Rather, he first reaches for paper and pencil. He then writes down pages and pages of formulas and numbers. He strings them together to discover new materials that could change the world of tomorrow. Meng’s area of expertise is quantum design; today he runs a junior research group in this field. Their findings will help build super-fast computers in the future or find new ways to save energy.
Electrons are genuine communication artists
“Ever since I was little I wanted to become a researcher,” says Tobias Meng. Biology and chemistry, however, were not really his focus back then. It was physics that fascinated him. The ability to unravel the mysteries of nature through abstract mathematical formulas. He studied natural sciences in Karlsruhe and Grenoble and earned his doctorate in Cologne. During his dissertation, he dives deeper into the fascinating world of electrons.
“This subfield of physics is absolutely diverse and incredibly exciting,” is how the now 37-year-old describes it. How these elementary particles act, what they can do and what effects they exhibit is always surprising to him, as he puts it enthusiastically. “They have a sort of social behavior, they interact with each other,” is how he describes it. In groups, electrons are capable of things they can't do individually. In other cases, an electron splits up, but its individual parts continue to communicate with each other - even over vast distances. A phenomenon that will later be exploited in quantum computers. Novel quantum algorithms could, for example, help develop new molecular pharmaceuticals much more effectively than would be possible with today's methods.
After research stays in the USA and Switzerland, Tobias Meng came to TU Dresden in 2014, joining Matthias Vojta’s chair of Theoretical Solid State Physics. In January 2019, one of TU Dresden's clusters of excellence was launched: ct.qmat. There, chemists, physicists and materials scientists are conducting interdisciplinary research into materials of the future in cooperation with the University of Würzburg. Its logo resembles a donut. Mathematically its geometric structure is called torus, and its special properties help Tobias Meng and his colleagues with their complex computations.
For this brain teaser you need persistence and a good team
It can sometimes take more than 50 pages of paper when Tobias Meng searches for the materials of the 21st century. “You can sometimes make a miscalculation on so many pages - our art is to discover the mistakes.” Once he has a result, the experimental physicists test it in the lab. “I need that point where my abstract calculations become something tangible.” By no means does every search yield a positive result. Sometimes the calculations are not good enough, sometimes the experiments. “But when we do find something, we know what's behind it in terms of physics,” he says.
It’s a discovery trip in the mini-cosmos. An exciting search for something new. “Or just Sudoku for advanced students,” he says tongue in cheek. What’s important about all this, he says, is the exchange with others in the cluster and the worldwide networked community in his field. “You usually can't come up with good things on your own,” he says with conviction. So he keeps on computing- until he comes across new ground again.
Date & Facts
19 Apr 2021
What does the donut have to do with physics? A lot, says Dr. Tobias Meng. It helps him solve difficult calculations. But not just as comfort food. © Photo: Tobias Ritz/TU Dresden © Video: Tobias Ritz/TU Dresden