N. David Mermin

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N. David Mermin
Mermin Stockholm 2009.jpg
N. David Mermin
Born30 March 1935 (1935-03-30) (age 87)
Alma materHarvard University
Known forAshcroft and Mermin
Mermin–Wagner theorem
Mermin–Ho relation
Lindhard–Mermin dielectric function
Coining the term 'boojum'
Mermin–Peres magic square
AwardsLilienfeld Prize (1989)
National Academy of Sciences (1991)
Klopsteg Memorial Award (1994)
Majorana Prize (2010)
American Philosophical Society (2015)
Vision 97 Award (2017)[1]
Scientific career
InstitutionsCornell University
University of California, San Diego
University of Birmingham
Doctoral studentsSusan Coppersmith
Anupam Garg
Tin-Lun Ho
Daniel S. Rokhsar
Sandra Troian

Nathaniel David Mermin (/ˈmɜːrmɪn/; born 30 March 1935) is a solid-state physicist at Cornell University best known for the eponymous Mermin–Wagner theorem, his application of the term "boojum" to superfluidity, his textbook with Neil Ashcroft on solid-state physics, and for contributions to the foundations of quantum mechanics and quantum information science.[2]

Education and career[edit]

Mermin was born in 1935 in New Haven, Connecticut. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University in 1956, graduating summa cum laude. He remained at Harvard for his graduate studies, earning a PhD in physics in 1961.[3] After holding postdoctoral positions at the University of Birmingham and the University of California, San Diego, he joined the Cornell University faculty in 1964.[3] He became a Cornell professor emeritus in 2006.

Early in his career, Mermin worked in statistical physics and condensed-matter physics, including the study of matter at low temperatures, the behavior of electron gases, the classification of quasicrystals, and quantum chemistry. His later research contributions included work in quantum information science and the foundations of quantum mechanics.[4]

Mermin was the first to note how the three-particle GHZ state demonstrates that no local hidden-variable theory can explain quantum correlations,[5][6] and together with Asher Peres, he introduced the "magic square" proof, another demonstration that attempting to "complete" quantum mechanics with hidden variables does not work.[7] In collaboration with Charles Bennett and Gilles Brassard, he made a significant early contribution to quantum cryptography.[8] Starting in 2012, he has advocated the interpretation known as Quantum Bayesianism, or QBism.[9]

In 2003, the journal Foundations of Physics published a bibliography of Mermin's writing that included three books, 125 technical articles, 18 pedagogical articles, 21 general articles, 34 book reviews, and 24 "Reference Frame" articles from Physics Today.[4]

Mermin was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1969,[10] and he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1991.[11]

Word and phrase coinages[edit]

Inspired by Lewis Carroll's comic poem The Hunting of the Snark, Mermin introduced the term boojum into the vocabulary of condensed-matter physics.[12]

In his book It's About Time (2005), one of several expository pieces on special relativity, he suggests that the English foot (0.3048 meters) be slightly modified to approximately 29.98 cm. This adaptation of a physical unit is one of several ploys that Mermin uses to draw students into spacetime geometry. In the book, Mermin writes:

Henceforth, by 1 foot we shall mean the distance light travels in a nanosecond. A foot, if you will, is a light nanosecond (and a nanosecond, even more nicely, can be viewed as a light foot). ... If it offends you to redefine the foot ... then you may define 0.299792458 meters to be 1 phoot, and think "phoot" (conveniently evocative of the Greek φωτος, "light") whenever you read "foot".[13]

Though it is often misattributed to Richard Feynman, Mermin coined the phrase "shut up and calculate!" to characterize the views of many physicists regarding the interpretation of quantum mechanics.[14]


  • 1968: Space and Time in Special Relativity, McGraw Hill ISBN 0-88133-420-0
  • 1976: (with Neil Ashcroft) Solid State Physics, Holt, Rinehart and Winston ISBN 0-03-083993-9[15]
  • 1990: Boojums All the Way Through, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-38880-5[16]
  • 2005: It's About Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity, Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-12201-4[17]
  • 2007: Quantum Computer Science, Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0-521-87658-2[18]
  • 2016: Why Quark Rhymes with Pork: and Other Scientific Diversions, Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-1-107-02430-4[19]


  1. ^ His acceptance speech can be read at Mermin, N. David (2017-10-14). "Mysl, smysl, svet". arXiv:1710.05229 [physics.hist-ph].
  2. ^ "Letters from the Past - A PRL Retrospective". Physical Review Letters. 2014-02-12. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  3. ^ a b Mermin, N. David (2018). "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Cornell University. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  4. ^ a b "Publications of N. David Mermin". Foundations of Physics. 33 (12): 1797–1809. 2003-12-01. doi:10.1023/A:1026233805919. ISSN 0015-9018. S2CID 189839377.
  5. ^ Caves, Carlton M.; Fuchs, Christopher A.; Schack, Rüdiger (2002-08-20). "Unknown quantum states: The quantum de Finetti representation". Journal of Mathematical Physics. 43 (9): 4537–4559. arXiv:quant-ph/0104088. Bibcode:2002JMP....43.4537C. doi:10.1063/1.1494475. ISSN 0022-2488. S2CID 17416262. Mermin was the first to point out the interesting properties of this three-system state, following the lead of D. M. Greenberger, M. Horne, and A. Zeilinger, "Going beyond Bell's Theorem," in Bell's Theorem, Quantum Theory and Conceptions of the Universe, edited by M. Kafatos (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1989), p. 69, where a similar four-system state was proposed.
  6. ^ Mermin, N. David (1990-08-01). "Quantum mysteries revisited". American Journal of Physics. 58 (8): 731–734. Bibcode:1990AmJPh..58..731M. doi:10.1119/1.16503. ISSN 0002-9505. S2CID 119911419.
  7. ^ Mermin, N. David (1993). "Hidden variables and the two theorems of John Bell". Reviews of Modern Physics. 65 (3): 803–815. arXiv:1802.10119. Bibcode:1993RvMP...65..803M. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.65.803. S2CID 119546199.
  8. ^ Bennett, Charles H.; Brassard, Gilles; Mermin, N. David (1992). "Quantum cryptography without Bell's theorem". Physical Review Letters. 68 (5): 557–559. Bibcode:1992PhRvL..68..557B. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.68.557. PMID 10045931.
  9. ^ Mermin, N. David (2012-07-01). "Commentary: Quantum mechanics: Fixing the shifty split". Physics Today. 65 (7): 8–10. Bibcode:2012PhT....65g...8M. doi:10.1063/pt.3.1618. ISSN 0031-9228.
    Mermin, N. David (2014-03-27). "Physics: QBism puts the scientist back into science". Nature. 507 (7493): 421–423. doi:10.1038/507421a. PMID 24678539.
    Mermin, N. David (2019). "Making better sense of quantum mechanics". Reports on Progress in Physics. 82 (1): 012002. arXiv:1809.01639. Bibcode:2019RPPh...82a2002M. doi:10.1088/1361-6633/aae2c6. PMID 30232960. S2CID 52299438.
  10. ^ "APS Fellows". American Physical Society. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  11. ^ "N. David Mermin". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2019-08-11.
  12. ^ Kwan, Alex (2005-09-15). "Boojums help turn physicist and pianist David Mermin into offbeat science writer". Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved 2017-10-11.
  13. ^ It's About Time, page 22
  14. ^ N. David Mermin (2004). "Could Feynman Have Said This?". Physics Today. 57 (5): 10–11. Bibcode:2004PhT....57e..10M. doi:10.1063/1.1768652.
  15. ^ Reviews and commentary:
  16. ^ Review of Boojums:
  17. ^ Reviews of It's About Time:
  18. ^ Reviews of Quantum Computer Science:
  19. ^ Review of Why Quark Rhymes with Pork:

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]