Despite the fact that he has only been an assistant professor in the Physics Institute since the beginning of June, Titus Neupert already feels like UZH is home. A native of Dresden, he completed his Master’s degree in Physics at Irchel, then studied for a year in Tokyo, finally returning to ETH for his doctorate. After three years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science, Neupert has returned to his alma mater and focuses upon theory for his institute working on solid state physics. His specialty is the mathematical description of the topology of quantum states of electrons in crystals and the physical implications of these properties. With his arrival, the foundation is laid for future research on quantum computing at UZH. The young physicist is not only fascinated with numbers, formulas, and equations, but he also paints portraits in his spare time. His sketchbook always travels with him.
"Physicists are here to solve problems", Prof. Titus Neupert.
Professor Neupert, how does one become a theoretical physicist?
Titus Neupert (T.N.): It requires probably first and foremost a great love for mathematics and a fearlessness in dealing with equations. One has to be creative and like the state of being stuck and puzzled.
Where does this love of mathematics come from?
T.N.: An important part was definitely my math teacher in high school. He treated us like university students and not like high school students. And he did not show us how to solve a particular mathematical problem on the blackboard, instead he let us discuss the problem for an hour and develop the solution ourselves.
You say that a theoretical physicist must like the state of being stuck. How do you stay motivated when you are stuck for longer periods of time and cannot break through?
T.N.: I always work on several things at the same time. At any given moment, there is a problem you can make more progress on and then also have more fun. You have to remain fluid with the matter, then it can move on. Often the sense of achievement you get from solving a different problem gives you momentum to take back to the original problem, and then with a freer spirit, you make progress. It is important that you have a certain breadth of content knowledge and can try out different approaches to solve the problem.
How do you clear your head?
T.N.: I enjoy being out in nature. I like hiking, cycling, jogging. In my leisure time I also like to be creative. I enjoy taking photographs and painting, mostly portraits. During holidays, I always have my sketchbook along. At the beginning of my studies, a pair of friends and I put together a small publishing house, and we published several books. But I finally had to give it up due to time constraints.
What do you like most about your work?
T.N.: The independence and flexibility. In my field, there are few experts. We often work in global collaborations, and so I travel a lot. In general the privilege to be able to determine ones own research themes, boosts creativity.
What advice do you give someone thinking about an academic career in theoretical physics?
T.N.: At the end of the thesis, you should be very honest with yourself and ask: does my scientific work provide me with lasting enjoyment, and do I have papers of the required quality? Next you should ask yourself whether you are ready to accept restrictions and, at least for a period of time, to go abroad.
Why should one study physics?
T.N.: Physics is the science in which one acquires a very fundamental understanding based on natural laws. You will be trained in thinking and logic, and you will learn to solve self determined problems. The main qualification of physicists is knowing how to solve different problems. And this is an extremely attractive thing.