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Through pandemic and war, Ukrainian UAH student is solving theoretical quantum physics problems

HUNTSVILLE — If pursuing a master’s degree in physics at the University of Alabama in Huntsville isn’t hard enough, try doing it during a pandemic.

Oh, wait. Let’s turn it up a notch.

Try doing it when your country has been invaded by one of the world’s superpowers.

That’s what UAH grad student Nazar Pyvovar has been facing.

But, amazingly, he has come through with flying colors – including work on theory in quantum physics.

This was December 2020. The pandemic was raging and Pyvovar was still in Ukraine. Physics professor Dr. Lingze Duan assigned him remotely the theoretical project.

The result “was nothing short of stellar,” Duan said.

“I gave him a couple of books in quantum optics and some of the prior papers in this field,” Duan said. “Within two months, he came back with a clear understanding about what we were trying to do and what key steps he needed to take. Soon after that, he began to outline potential schemes that could tackle the problem.”

Pyvovar worked on the project while taking an undergraduate course load and also conducting unrelated experimental research in summer 2021. Student and advisor didn’t actually meet until fall 2021, relying on Zoom to communicate.

“While his work was built upon our prior work, the key mathematical scheme that led to the simplification of the ‘way too complicated’ problem was entirely credited to him,” Duan said. “Because of his exceptional academic achievement, in April he received the Highest Undergraduate Achievement award in the College of Science – awarded to one student per year.”

Pyvovar’s home city is Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine next to the Russian border. But his family has been fortunate to not be severely affected by the war, he said.

“They left for Germany the day the war started, and were extremely lucky to find some German citizens who let them stay in their house,” Pyvovar said. After about four months in Germany, his family has returned to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

The start of the war caused Pyvovar some delayed assignments, but he said he quickly adapted.

“I had about two months to graduation when the war started, so I had the goal of finishing my degree, and I was just making it one assignment at a time,” he said. “Every now and then I would hear the news about deaths – a soldier younger than me died in battle, or a civilian senior older than my dad was tortured to death – all of them people I used to know.

“That news always makes my peaceful and joyful life here in the states feel undeserved. But it always will – it is undeserved. I am still just trying to do my best, one decision at a time.”

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