Logan Wright: Forging a Dynamic Feedback Loop Between the Physics of Complex Systems and Computer Science

Yale Engineering is proud to welcome its newest faculty for the 2023-24 academic year. These six new faculty members – with more to be announced soon – mark the continued growth of the School and investment in the research areas illustrated in the SEAS Strategic Vision.

The latest faculty arrivals are valuable additions to the applied physics, biomedical, and mechanical engineering and materials science departments. Their expertise includes machine learning, artificial intelligence, atomic engineering, quantum computing, photon physics, neuroscience, and biological networks.

Upon their arrival, we asked these new faculty members questions about their work, their motivations, potential collaborations, and much more:

Logan Wright, Applied Physics


I grew up in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Prior academic history?

I was in Engineering Physics at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, then did my PhD in Applied Physics at Cornell University. After graduating, I conducted a post-doc that has involved affiliations with Stanford University, Cornell University, and NTT Research.

How would you summarize your research?

Topically, my research is a sort of weird feedback loop between the physics of complex systems and computer science. With the former category, I am mostly focused on photon physics - the physics and applications of lasers, nonlinear optical waves, entangled photons, all with as many degrees of freedom as possible. With the latter, I am mainly focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially neural networks.

I’m motivated to make more powerful computers, and to expand the physical domain of computer science – to take the power of programming and algorithms to new physics and functionalities beyond classical, digital electronic computing. My long-term goals include things like “laser brains” that can efficiently learn and perform neural-network-like calculations, or laser-wielding scibots that can tirelessly discover or design new things. On a day-to-day basis I’m thinking about how to make programmable physical systems, and how to program their function, their form, and their self-organization. In other words: programmable physics and physical computer science.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

Computers have transformed virtually every domain of human endeavor, especially science and engineering. Every improvement in computers has led to additional capacity to do qualitatively new things. Within basic research, light-based tools – lasers, microscopes, cameras – increasingly play a similar role: as they improve, they enable science that would never have been possible before. From an applications point of view, there is just a huge amount of downstream impact if you can have if you can improve these things.

But from a more selfish point of view, I just find this stuff very cool. I like how this topical area lets me continue to be curious about everything – although my lab specializes in photonics, we can take a delightfully broad physical perspective, looking at physics through the lens of computation. We can dabble (sometimes more than dabble!) in physical systems outside of photonics. We can do theory, computation, and experiments, and modes of science that blur the lines between those. We can pursue both deep fundamental questions as well as attempt to solve real world problems.

Where do you see the field 10 years from now?

I think it is going to be a wild west. I think our relationship with computers is changing. We are living through a paradigm shift in how computers work, both physically and conceptually. Within ten years, it’s possible we’ll see the emergence of useful quantum computers – one of the most stunning, seemingly science-fiction technologies ever devised. We may have artificial intelligence systems whose complexity approaches, in some very handwaving sense, the complexity of the human brain, and whose insane computational requirements will demand completely new kinds of physical hardware, rewriting the rules of both computer and software engineering. This will change how we do science, and how we do engineering.

What brought you to Yale?

To be sure, Yale is a famous university that has many achievements and world-leading expertise, not least in my fields of interest – lasers, nonlinear and quantum optics, quantum information, cognitive science, control theory...

But maybe above all, I’ve just had a fantastic impression of people at Yale. There is an exciting start-up energy, especially as Yale expands its engineering. The students are brilliant, driven, inspiring and fun to be around. I remember reading that Yale students were among the happiest students at any US university – I’m not sure how scientific this is, but anecdotally it seems plausible. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to collaborate with such fantastic young scientists, not to mention the supportive senior colleagues and staff I’ll get to work with in my department and beyond.

What areas outside of Applied Physics do you seek to create impactful research collaborations or partnerships?

Something I love about my research topics is that they bring together quite a few different disciplines – physics, computer science, applied mathematics, robotics, neuroscience, materials science, theoretical and computational biology, and much more. My long-term hope is that researchers in my lab, collaborating broadly and boldly, will eventually invent new languages and technical frameworks that can naturally break through disciplinary boundaries, that can make it easy to talk about and translate concepts between diverse physical systems. I think these are likely to be data-driven and computational in nature, and I think there may be a need for new mathematics. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Are there any courses that you look forward to teaching/creating?

I’m lucky to be able to teach a course on Nonlinear Optics and Lasers, and I am ambitiously dreaming/planning a new course called Physics & Computation.

What are your interests outside of the lab?

I am an avid reader – mostly of science fiction. I enjoy listening to (and occasionally creating) new music. I try to make exercise a hobby, often successfully.

What is the best New Haven Pizza?

I like that there is a diverse ecosystem, there is creativity and passion and depth. But I don’t know what the best is. I’m open to collecting data though – especially if we can talk about research while doing it.

Find Logan Wright on Twitter, Google Scholar, LinkedIn or visit his lab website.

Back to the 2023-2024 New Faculty Profiles