Learning about quantum phenomena with quantum machines

Phew! This is a lot of abstract words – so let’s take them step by step. Quantum phenomena are observations made in nature which can only be explained by effects of quantum mechanics. Generally speaking, quantum mechanics gives our nowadays best description of the fundamental processes in nature on very small length scales. This might sound very abstract, but actually a lot of modern technologies rely on quantum mechanical effects. The better and better understanding of quantum mechanics has led to innovations, like for example the satellite positioning (GPS), and it still holds big promises for the future. One prominent technological goal you may have seen in the media is to build a new type of computer which makes use of quantum mechanical effects – the so-called quantum computer. This is currently a very hot topic and already some other of our writings touched upon this. The focus of this text is more directed towards the fundamental aspects because there still exist many interesting open questions as well.

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Thermometer with logarithmic scale. This means the ticks are spaced by a factor of 1000. The temperatures of the systems we create in the laboratory are as low as the energies created at LHC are high.

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This year’s female Nobel laureates – leading a paradigm shift?

It is evident that even with this year’s evolution in the recognition of women’s achievements, the Nobel prizes are still a bastion of inequality.

a contribution to our humans of physics series by Shirin Ermis, originally published at https://felixonline.co.uk

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Humans of Physics VII: Frederick del Pozo

This is the seventh installment of our project Humans of Physics, which seeks to portrait the scientists as the persons they are.

When the Lockdown came the big question every student was asking was “how will this impact my studies, degree, carreer???”. Luckily I am a Physics Student, soon to complete my MSc Thesis and degree, and therefore most of my work is easily done from Home, a luxury that many Physicists share. My work can be done with a stable WiFi connection, a laptop and Zoom-Calls. No longer did I need to “go to work”, I could simply sit at my desk or my bed, and work as I pleased.

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Humans of Physics VI: Beatrice Ellerhoff

If you ask an author what their everyday life looks like, they will hardly ever answer: “Well, I’m just writing!” because combining letters into a meaningful text requires much more than the mere act of ‘writing’. Let me compare the work of a PhD student with that of the author: To say that my PhD is about performing computations on a black screen simply wouldn’t say enough. Both writing a book and calculating climate variables involves long research, practice of methodology, discussion with colleagues, many imperfect trials, and tedious bureaucracy. It requires the will to gain a holistic understanding of a specific topic,and the vision of contributing to society.

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Humans of Physics V: Guillaume Berthet

This is the fifth installment of Humans of Physics, a series focusing in the researchers more than in the research, for once.

The first time I entered in the room where the cold atom experiment was, I couldn’t express what I felt… Wires everywhere, optical fibers sending lasers all over the room, a metallic vacuum chamber hidden by a huge amount of copper wire, optical fibers and water cooled magnetic coils… A big mess. My supervisor asked me to have a look inside the vacuum chamber through a thick glass. After five minutes trying to find the right angle I finally saw it. A red bubble surrounded by darkness. This was a billion atoms trapped in the vacuum… I was really impressed.

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Humans of Physics IV: Shirin Ermis

This is the fourth installment of Humans of Physics, a project which searches to show how we scientists are just like everyone. Dispelling some stereotypes is probably a good idea, from time to time. 

For me, the cliché is true. Every morning I get woken up by the birds. It’s actually a chime but it still feels good and I congratulate myself for having found it on my phone every morning. It’s seven, I try to roll between my sheets as long as possible without falling back to sleep. Usually the fool-proof way to do that is to put on a podcast of yet more grueling news. I’ll start with the short German one. Then if I need more time, the English one. At some point around twenty past seven I will crawl out of bed, do my morning stretches, get dressed and go downstairs to get breakfast. I’ll balance the warm bowl of porridge and the tea upstairs to my room. While clutching the cup I will try to keep myself motivated for long enough to write a little to do list in my diary. I will make sure my workout, watering my plants and going outside is on there as well as all the work stuff. Sometimes I will drift off at that point, either too excited to focus or too bored to be bothered. It’s usually videos on Youtube on why polar bear numbers are rising in some places in the Arctic or pictures of London on Pinterest in anticipation for my master’s that I will start in October.

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Humans of Physics III: Asier Piñeiro

This is the third installment of Humans of Physics, a series focusing in the researchers more than in the research, for once.

“I stare at equations for a living,” used to say my Tinder profile – and it’s not too far from true. My day usually looks like a mixture of scribbling mathematical formulas, programming them into a computer, and then trying to make sense of it all in meetings, blackboard discussions or just by staring long enough into the void. That’s at least how it looks like from the outside.

Inside me, every day is more like an intellectual and emotional journey – sometimes a calm stroll, sometimes a roller coaster. It all starts and ends with (small) questions about the (big) world. When I’m playing with ideas and trying them out I feel in flow, I feel alive. When ideas don’t work out, I get frustrated and start doubting about myself, wondering why I do what I do. But then, a new idea. And I dream of revolutions. An error, and I feel stupid. Another idea, and I feel like Einstein. Yes? Nope. Doesn’t work. Perhaps a different question?

No matter the answer, what makes the journey to me truly meaningful is sharing it with my friends and peers: sharing our enthusiasm about little findings; our random conversations about the world; and, my personal favorite, those Friday afternoons when our tired minds will forge the most amazing idea that is gonna solve physics once and for all. Except it won’t. But maybe next Friday.

Asier, seen here in one of his many natural habitats. Photo taken in Arches National Park, Utah.
Asier is a postdoc at JILA (Boulder, USA), trying to understand the games that atoms play with each other when they’re left alone in the quantum world, inside it’s cold, and no one is looking. (aka dynamics of cold many-body quantum systems)

Humans of Physics II: Eleanor Crane.

Note that it might be that none of what I say is true. Don’t believe me and check for yourself – that’s the foundational rule of being a physicist.

Physics seems to attract the obsessive type, the intense, on-it, keen beans. Those who are mad to learn, calculate, experiment, discover.

In some of us, this desire to burn carries over into other aspects of life: writing, dancing, climbing, film-making, building radios, public speaking, anything, all of it. And there’s one aspect which I observe in my friends, which carries over to the extra-curricular activities: scientific rigour. Life gets busy as a physicist – we’re obsessional, remember, which means when we get going there’s no stopping us – but whatever gets done gets done well. And we always seem to find time to do more.

Once my dad needed help to move a large fridge-freezer up two flights of stairs. He knew there was a friendly face in the flat above, a guy who was out of a job and nearly always around.

He went to ask him, and the reply came: “Sure! Hmmmmm… I think I might have time next Tuesday.” My dad always used to say that it’s those who are busiest who can make time. Maybe that’s what I love the most about physicists, the desire to always fit in more activities, like creating this website and packing it with more physics-goodness.