I'm a postdoc in Physics at the University of Chicago, working with professors William Irvine and Sid Nagel. My current focus is on the effects of geometry and topology on soft matter and fluid systems.
Knotted fields appear in many contexts: fluids, super-fluids, plasmas, electro-magnetic fields, etc. The degree of tangledness of these fields can be quantified ("helicity"), and is conserved for ideal flows. However, for real fluids—even superfluids—knots and links spontaneoulsy break up, calling into question the nature of this conservation law.
To understand how this disentangling works, we have new developed techniques to create and measure knots in simulations and experiments. This has included the first demonstration of a vortex knot in a real fluid (see publications), made possible by cutting edge technology like 3D printers and ultra-high speed cameras. Remarkably, we have recently discovered that vortex knots untie themselves in a special way: converting knots into coils in precisely the manner required to conserve helicity. Ongoing work indicates that closely related behavior can be observed in simulated superfluids, suggesting that the underlying mechanisms are universal. Ultimately, these results are important steps in understanding the role that knottedness plays in complex fields like turbulence or braided loops of plasma on the surface of the sun.
Popular descriptions of my work on knotted vortices have been featured on PBS's Nova [video] and NPR's Science Friday [audio, video]. Images from my research have also appeared on the covers of Nature Physics and PNAS.
Before coming to the University of Chicago, I worked in the field of Quantum Optics in Dirk Bouwmeester's group at UCSB. My PhD thesis was an experimental and theoretical study of micro-optomechanical systems.