Introduction: Timothy Havel

edited November 2020 in General

One-liner: Scientist turned cleantech entrepreneur (retired).

Multi-liner: I started out by getting a degree in Biophysics from U.C. Berkeley in 1982, imagining I would be a "mathematical molecular biophysicist" (stop laughing). I then went on to write the software and compute the structure of the first protein to be determined in its native solution state via NMR and "distance geometry" while a postdoc in the laboratory of Prof. Kurt Wüthrich at the ETH-Zürich. This helped him to get a piece of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and me to live on NIH grants for the analysis of biomolecular NMR data for the next 15 years or so, ultimately with a non-tenured appointment at the Harvard Medical School. The software I developed at that time served as the engine underlying several molecular modeling packages that were distributed by Acelrys Inc. in the 1990's.

When that funding petered out, I moved on to designing and analyzing the data from NMR experiments which demonstrated the principles of quantum information processing also via solution-state NMR spectroscopy. These demonstrations, which were based on the concept of a pseudopure state, which I developed with Prof. David Cory in the Dept. of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, included the first physical implementation of a quantum error correcting code along with many other techniques that are applicable to the development of quantum computers regardless of the underlying technology. They also demonstrated, again for the first time, the utility of the Lindblad and Kraus superoperator formalisms in the study of NMR relaxation processes, something that few NMR spectrocopists are aware of to this day.

What enabled me to work effectively across such diverse disciplines was my knowledge of geometric (aka Clifford) algebras, together with their broad applicability to the physical sciences and engineering. These algebras, largely developed and popularized in the latter half of the 20th century by the theoretical physicist David Hestenes and his colleagues at Arizona State Univ., are most succinctly described as generalizations of 3D vector algebra to metric vector spaces of all dimensions and signatures. My most significant contribution to this field was the realization in the early 1990's that Prof. Hestene's study of the conformal group via geometric algebra showed that these algebras can also be viewed as the covariant (group) algebras associated with coordinate-rings of algebraic invariants. I had studied these in the course of my earlier work on distance geometry and through my informal associations with Prof. Gian-Carlo Rota and his students from the MIT mathematics dept., together with Prof. Bernd Sturmfels before he became a professor of mathematics at U.C. Berkeley.

Upon turning 50 without a permanent academic position, and thinking the world might yet respond sensibly to the now-near-term threats of climate change, I subsequently went to the MIT Sloan School of management to learn how to launch a clean-tech venture. There I came up with the idea of using the adsorption of compressed air in zeolite minerals to store energy in a very safe, clean and possibly even cheap fashion, and spent much of the next decade trying to get someone with money interested in the approach, to no avail. Current interests are in kernel methods in machine learning (and beyond), dynamical systems models of cognition, and category theoretic approaches to the two (all of which can be pursued with little or no money down).

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