They educated her to think that she could do whatever she believed in. And so it was. Chiara Marletto, 34, from Turin, is now a theoretical physicist at the University of Oxford, recently celebrated with a full page in the Guardian for the essay “The Science of Can and Can’t” soon to be published also in Italy. He studies the quantum computer and proposes a “Science of can and cannot” which aims to rewrite the laws of physics, putting Newton, Einstein and quantum mechanics in agreement to describe the Universe. Yet at the beginning his only interest was in literature, cultivated at the Cavour classical high school in Turin after a childhood spent in Borgo San Paolo with his father and mother Fiat cadres. “Ancient literature and philosophy attracted me, I imagined becoming a writer or something like that, at the time I was very distant from science,” she says from her home in Oxford. But then in the philosophy program of the last year he discovered the scientific theories of the twentieth century, quantum and new ways of conceiving the time of relativity.

“I realized that I didn’t know anything about it and I came up with the idea of ​​filling this gap by trying Physical Engineering.” She graduated from the Polytechnic with a scientist of the caliber of Mario Rasetti as a professor, expert in information and quantum computation. He was the one who pushed her towards a doctorate in this field in 2010 at Oxford, where she then remained as a Research Fellow in the Physics department and at Wolfson College. “I return to Turin 3 or 4 times a year, also because I have maintained collaborations with the Polytechnic, the ISI Foundation and the Irim, the National Institute of Metrological Research, where the quantum optics group headed by Marco Genovese operates – he explains -. I stay in the city for a long time because in this way I follow the experiments on the spot ». His “Science of can and cannot” starts from quantum information to arrive at a “theory of everything” in the framework of the studies of David Deutsch, his mentor at Oxford.

It all started with the idea of ​​replacing bits, the information units of the classical computer, with QuBits, quantum bits, which obey the laws of quantum physics and have more possibilities available when performing a computation. “Deutsch and other pioneers like him demonstrated in the 80s and 90s that the quantum computer, in theory, is more powerful, faster, belongs to another category”, explains the researcher who still defines hard drives as “prototypes” disks of this type tested by IBM or Google. But there are already applications used in medicine, in cryptography for financial transactions or in weather forecasting. «The engineering evolution is in progress, but the interesting aspect is what derives from the point of view of basic physics – he explains -. If we study the computations allowed by quantum, we unexpectedly go to the essence of the theory: by establishing which are possible and which are impossible, we can go further and express all the laws of physics through the constraints existing in the system: we can or cannot “. An apparently simple modification that could open new horizons for understanding what continues to escape basic physics. Not only aspects related to information theory, but also to the functioning of living beings or thermodynamics on a microscopic scale.

Chiara Marletto is used to “thinking outside the box” and imagines what can happen 50 years from now. The road leads to a universal quantum computer and then to a “universal builder”. A machine designed by physicist John von Neumann, programmed to perform any “physically possible” transformation and not just calculations. Like a 3d printer, it could produce any object: a whole house, other living things, and so on. Marletto explains this in the essay that will be released for Mondadori at the beginning of 2022. «They are completing the translation. It is a text aimed at the widest possible audience ». The theory of the universal constructor would push for “a huge technological breakthrough and would lead to revolutions that no one could imagine now,” notes the researcher, admitting that it may sound like science fiction. “Yet the same happened with the current computer, starting with the Turing machine in the 1940s.”

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June 14, 2021 | 17:15


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