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Courant’s Deift, Who has Shown a Connection Between Quantum Physics and Solitaire, Elected to National Academy of Sciences

April 29, 2009
N-426, 2008-09

Percy Deift, a professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Washington, D.C.-based organization announced today. Deift’s work has shown a powerful similarity between a simple form of solitaire and random matrices, a mathematical tool originally developed to decipher the quantum behavior of large atoms.

Deift was among the 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 15 countries who were elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Deift and his colleagues note that all physical systems in equilibrium exhibit universal behavior-they are all governed by the same laws and formulas of thermodynamics. But Deift, along with Jinho Baik at the University of Michigan and Kurt Johansson of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, have proved that a variety of systems that arise in purely mathematical contexts, including a version of the card game solitaire called “patience sorting,” also exhibit a form of universal behavior.

Because solitaire is a game of chance, each game depending on the hand dealt out, mathematicians have analyzed its outcomes through probability theory. But Deift, Baik, and Johansson have proved that the probability distribution in solitaire is significantly more complex than that for many other games of chance, such as rolling dice. In fact, this form of solitaire, which involves forming several piles of cards, can be understood in terms of particular statistics of random matrices. Random matrices are typically used by quantum physicists to understand the behavior of high-dimensional physical systems whose properties are the result of complex particle interactions.

Among the NAS’s former members are Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and Alexander Graham Bell. Over 180 living academy members have won Nobel Prizes. Additional information about the academy and its members is available at

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Graduate School of Arts and Science, Research

Type: Press Release

Percy Deift

Percy Deift

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