Tribute to Professor Mike Horne

January 22, 2019

Professor Michael Horne, who died recently, was one of the most respected minds in quantum mechanics, the branch of physics concerned with the study of matter and light on the atomic and subatomic levels.

Joining Stonehill in 1970, Horne spent his whole career, close to 50 years, at the College and, in those early days, he and his colleague Professor Chet Raymo were the Physics Department. Horne graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1964 (B.S. Physics) and from Boston University in 1967 (M.A. Physics) and 1970 (Ph.D.).

Throughout his career, Horne collaborated with the leading physicists in America and Europe, from M.I.T to the University of Vienna, exploring the mysteries of entanglement and challenging Albert Einstein's "elements of reality" theory that what happens to one object could not be directly and immediately linked with what happens to another object at a distant location.

He and his colleagues discovered quantum entanglement implies that spatial separation is not as simple as once thought. Two particles that are miles or light years apart may behave in a spookily concerted way. This groundbreaking research on entangled states in nature at the quantum level received acclaim in the book The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. The term GHZ (short for Greenberger, Horne, Zeilinger) is now a standard designation for the fundamental entangled state of three quantum particles and is frequently indexed in quantum mechanics text books.

Horne’s fascination with physics began in the late 1950s when he discovered a series of books on the subject prepared by the Physical Science Study Committee at M.I.T. It was just after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space and America was trying to encourage wider interest in physics. Having read one of those books, Horne was hooked and, as a high school student, he ordered the whole set and made physics his life’s work.

“What drew me was the simplicity. Physics has a bad rap as being complicated. It’s not. In fact, I still tell my students, if it’s complicated, then it’s not physics,” Horne once quipped.

Interested in physics but not in engineering, Horne was a true theoretical quantum physicist whose passion rested with the discipline’s fundamental rules. In his quest to dissect these rules and propose experiments that apply them in new ways, Horne worked with only a notebook and a #2 pencil. As he once noted, “I am a Luddite. I don’t even have a computer in my office.”

Horne saw modern science’s reliance on the calculating power of supercomputers as limiting, forcing the discipline to evolve in one direction.

“It goes back to my insistence on simplicity. There is a beauty in physics’ simplicity that’s lost when it all comes down to blind numerical calculations,” he once said.

Indeed, Horne spoke often about the beauty and practicality of physics and always endeavored to share that perspective with others, especially his students. When he received Stonehill's Distinguished Faculty Award in 2001, the title of his address was Quantum Mechanics for Everyone.

“Even as Mike’s expertise was sought out by colleagues all over the globe, he always made time for his own students and Stonehill colleagues; he was a fixture in the Pettit Atrium discussing assignments and reviewing projects with students, helping them to better understand and appreciate physics,” recalls Provost Joseph Favazza. 

Horne’s friend Professor Raymo has observed, "As long as I have known Mike, I have seen him using every minute between teaching classes and helping students with a pad of paper and sharp pencil figuring out the secrets of the universe. What a thing it is that one can do such things with a pad and pencil."

From Gulfport, Mississippi, Horne loved music. An accomplished drummer and bass guitarist, he often jazzed it up with colleagues in a faculty band. He is survived by his wife, Carol, extended family and many colleagues and friends.