JOURNAL ENTRY #190
August 4, 2015
The Joint Quantum Institute is located on the campus of the University of Maryland. Chad Orzel, of Union College, and Emily Edwards and Steve Rolston of the Institute, assembled a program hoping to instruct a group of science fiction writers on the finer points, or maybe the less entangled ones, of the quantum world. Emily served as the general coordinator, which is always a challenge when a project is running for the first time, as this one was. But I'm happy to say everything went well. And they are talking about doing it again next year. The program was sponsored by a grant from the American Physical Society.
Anyone interested in ongoing developments in the field can stay up with some of the more challenging research by subscribing to 'A Quantum Bit.' Just make the request and send an email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program ran from Thursday, July 29 through Saturday, August 1. Presentations were delivered by quantum physicists who were unable to conceal their enthusiasm for the topic. They were mostly from the JQI, and they briefed us on basics, on superposition, and on entanglement. We were introduced to Bell's Theorem and local variables. The theorem stipulates that the predictions of any local theory regarding hidden variables will not be compatible with the predictions of quantum mechanics. This led to a brief discussion about whether the Moon is only there when we are looking at it.
We visited laboratories which specialized in operating ion traps, which use electric and/or magnetic fields to capture charged particles, usually in a system isolated from an external environment. Ion traps enable scientists to control quantum states, and set up mass spectrometry experiments. Mass spectrometry is a technique that helps identify chemicals in a sample by measuring the mass-to-charge ratio and the quantity of gas-phase ions. These capabilities also can lead to other areas of basic physics research.
There was a light presentation. That is, of photonics, an examination of the essence of light. We talked about photons, their transmission, processing, emission, and so on. We also got into quantum communications and quantum computation. There was a description of the capabilities we could expect from a quantum computer, and its limitations. Everyone was waiting for teleportation to surface. Eventually it did, and we were relieved to hear that experiments had shown it to be possible. (I was relieved to hear that, since a stargate is at the heart of Thunderbird, which will be released in four months.) Unfortunately, however, it was revealed a few minutes later that we would probably never be able to teleport anything much more complicated than an atomic particle. And certainly nothing so complex as Captain Kirk.
We watched a superfluidity demonstration, in which a piece of matter behaved like a fluid while it raced around on a metal circuit that resembled a small roller-coaster track, occasionally defying gravity. Here's a link to moments in the event, including the roller-coaster, compliments of Doug Farren:
I should add that we got into superconductivity, as well. And on Friday evening, we were treated to dinner at Busboys and Poets, where the principal speaker was Nobel Laureate S. James Gates.
Much of what we talked about was above my pay grade. But the experience left me with considerable respect for quantum physicists, and a bit more humility than I possessed going in. And I don't think I'll ever be quite the same.