Wyatt Kirkby

Hello and welcome!

About me

I am currently a 4th-year PhD Candidate at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I focus on the study of the dynamics of many-body quantum systems, with a particular interest in caustics and other types of many-body universal behaviour.

Originally from Aurora, Ontario, I moved to the east coast to pursue a degree in jazz performance at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. After deciding that professional musician wasn't a good fit for me, I switched to the physics program and completed my honours thesis under the supervision of the late Dr. Brandon P. van Zyl, studying density functional theory in two-dimensional dipolar gases.

After completing the BSc in 2015, I moved to McMaster University in Hamilton, where I completed my MSc in 2017 and am currently working on my PhD under the supervision of Dr. Duncan H. J. O'Dell.

My Research

My primary focus of research consists of studying the proliferation of caustics in quantum mechanical many-body systems. Caustics are regions where the underlying classical theory (usually described by rays) become singular. In light, these become bright lines that might be familiar in a coffee cup, or at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Zooming in to the scale of wave mechanics, these singularities become smoothed out by interference, and results in beautiful diffraction patterns like the one shown on the right.

There is an even smaller scale wherein lies the realm of quantum mechanics. At this level, the smoothness of diffraction patterns is broken by the discretization of nature itself. Examples of these quantum caustics can be seen in dynamics of quenched Bose-Einstein condensates (left), or as "quantum light cones" in spin chains.

Throughout our research, we use the mathematics of catastrophe theory to categorize these caustics and to describe their universal features.

For more information, see the Publications tab.


I am a teaching assistant for a number of courses, ranging from first year to graduate level. Generally, my duties include coordination on assignments and solutions as well as marking for the upper-year courses. For the first-year courses, activities are generally restricted to labs and tutorials.

  • Physics 739 - Graduate level quantum mechanics

  • Physics 750 - Graduate level statistical mechanics

  • Physics 3QI3 - Quantum Information

  • Physics 3MM3/4F03 - Quantum mechanics I & II at the undergraduate level

  • Physics 2C03 - Modern physics

  • Physics 2E03 - Classical mechanics

  • Physics 1A03/1AA3/1D03/1E03 - First year physics for health sciences and engineering students