AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

meet the team

Photo of Yale Fan

Yale Fan

Portland, OR

Catlin Gabel School

Grade: Junior


Learning, tennis, listening to and playing classical music, sketching with pencil, browsing the arXiv


Go club, math club, robotics team, Oregon ARML team, CTY Study of Exceptional Talent


AMC/AIME, USA Mathematical Talent Search (gold), National Latin Exam ("Summa cum laude"), Intel ISEF, Davidson Fellow Laureate


Existential questions afflicted me from a very early age. To me, the straightforward biological motive of self-perpetuation achieves no apparent end: it is not teleological. I thought philosophy would tell me the true purpose of existence, but I eventually grew bored of imprecise systems of ethical or aesthetic thought entirely independent of quantitative reasoning. This want of structure drew me into physics. Why physics rather than the platonic ideals of mathematics? As much as I enjoy and respect mathematics, only physics gave me a sense of existential resolution. I'd like to pursue physics because in the end, the only philosophies that satisfy me are those corroborated by natural law.

On a less abstract note, I recently read "The Two Cultures," an article by Timothy Gowers, in which he discusses problem-solving versus theory-building in mathematics. However, his discussion applies equally well to physics. I believe that the merit of problem-solving lies in developing techniques applicable to building theory and general understanding. Consequently, one of my defining pursuits is scientific research, particularly in quantum computation. I've seen the collaborative nature of the scientific community through contact with various professors and research groups over the past several years. In addition, delving into the literature has taught me quite a bit about quantum mechanics. My work ended up as two publications on quantum algorithms (one singly-authored), and I am currently pondering relativistic generalizations of methods for molecular dynamics simulation with quantum computers.

I'd like to acknowledge the physicists who have indirectly lent me their help through their books, including Irodov, Feynman, and Penrose. Because I've engaged in independent learning throughout my life, I also highly value free Internet resources such as MIT OpenCourseWare, Wikipedia, and Gerardus 't Hooft's page on "How to Become a Good Theoretical Physicist." I'm fortunate to live near David Griffiths, and though I've never read his textbooks, he was so kind as to send me a copy of his paper on "The charge distribution on a conductor for non-Coulombic potentials" when I asked about it. Lastly, I thank my teachers, who were flexible so that I could explore many opportunities.

« back to the team

Disclaimer: Information in Physics Team profiles is provided by the Team members and is in no way a reflection of AAPT's opinions or views.