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Quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics

Web life: Quantum Frontiers

30 Mar 2017
Taken from the March 2017 issue of Physics World

So what is the site about?

Quantum-based technologies have undergone something of a revolution in the past decade or so. With that in mind, the National Science Foundation in the US set up “Physics Frontiers Centers”, bringing together research groups and teams from across the country, with an aim to “foster major breakthroughs at the intellectual frontiers of physics”. In 2012 the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) joined the group, and its members launched the blog Quantum Frontiers in July that year. The institute focuses on “physical systems in which the weirdness of the quantum world becomes manifest on macroscopic scales” and the research – and therefore the blog – covers everything from mechanical quantum systems to quantum information and optics, nanotechnology and of course, quantum computation. The blog is run and written by IQIM researchers and students, but with a few core contributors including IQIM director John Preskill and PhD student Nicole Yunger Halpern.

What are some of the topics covered?

Pretty much anything and everything quantum-physics-related that the team is working on gets covered. A lot of the blogs are based on events, conferences and talks that the authors are attending, as well as timely posts such as the “mechanics of thanksgiving”. The blog is also cleverly divided into five main sections: experiments, theory, reflections (where “distinguished guests reflect on their work and the world of science”), real science (which focuses on the work being done at IQIM by teachers and students) and finally the “expert’s corner”, where you, the reader, can pose questions to any of the researchers about their work. What makes Quantum Frontiers engaging is that most authors discuss how they got involved in the field or talk candidly about a current project, lifting the veil on academic life.

Who is it aimed at?

To some extent, anyone with a healthy interest in how quantum technologies are being developed would do well to read the blog. That being said, the posts are fairly detailed and technical, so you may be slightly bewildered with some of the details. “We hope that the posts to come will be long on inspiration, even if short on information about how to do your homework,” wrote Preskill in his first post and on that, they have been successful.

Can you give me a sample quote?

From a 31 January post titled “Hamiltonian: An American Musical (without Americana or music)”: “Critics are raving about it. Barack Obama gave a speech about it. It’s propelled two books onto bestseller lists. Committees have showered more awards on it than clouds have showered rain on California this past decade. What is it? The Hamiltonian, represented by Ĥ. It’s an operator (a mathematical object) that basically represents a system’s energy. Hamiltonians characterize systems classical and quantum, from a brick in a Broadway theatre to the photons that form a spotlight. Ĥ determines how a system evolves, or changes in time. I lied: Obama didn’t give a speech about the Hamiltonian. He gave a speech about Hamilton: An American Musical, which spotlights 18th-century revolutionary Alexander Hamilton. Alexander conceived the US national bank. He nurtured the economy as our first secretary of the Treasury. The year after Alexander Hamilton died, William Rowan Hamilton was born. Rowan conceived 4D numbers called quaternions. He nurtured the style of physics, Hamiltonian mechanics, used to model quantum systems today. Hamilton tickets sell out despite costing more than $1000…Musical fans across the country are applauding Alexander. Hamilton forbid that William Rowan should envy him. Let’s celebrate Hamiltonians.”

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