Archive for January, 2011

Photo by David Bebee, Waterloo Region Record

Gina Passante likes to spin yarn. And quantum particles.

As an avid knitter, she spins the yarn as a hobby.  As as doctoral student at the Institute for Quantum Computing, she spins the quantum particles (or at least manipulates and measures their magnetic spins).

Gina’s eclectic interests piqued the curiosity of reporter Rose Simone, who wrote a terrific article that appeared on the front page of last Saturday’s Waterloo Region Record.

So if you ever need a cozy homemade blanket, or you want to implement an algorithm on a nuclear magnetic resonance quantum information processor, just ask Gina!




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Great licence plate

I live uptown Waterloo, in the same building that IQC often hosts visitors in.

Not so long ago, I pulled into a spot beside this van:

That, my friends, is what I call dedication to quantum information science!

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This past November, I found myself on a plane to China to participate in the PhD Workshop China 2010, a large international graduate studies exposition. This was the culmination of two months of intermittent traveling to spread the word about IQC and recruit new graduate students for IQC’s collaborative graduate program in Quantum Information.

I accompanied uWaterloo’s Associate Director of Graduate Recruitment and Admission, Ms. Jeanette Nugent. I gave a few seminars about Quantum Information and IQC at some of the top Chinese Universities (thanks to our good friend, Bei Zeng).

Of course, being my first time in China, I figured a 13-hour flight and 12-hour jetlag would deserve at least 3 days to recover: perfect time to take some of my postponed summer holidays and visit the sites in China.

Nov. 19: On the plane to China. I have a whole row to myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to snooze somewhat “comfortably.”

Nov 20: Beijing. I arrive at the hotel around 18:30 and surprisingly I’m not too tired. Armed with an unreadable map and a few yuans, I venture into the urban jungle. First stop, Wangfujing. It becomes apparent that the once very traditional looking Beijing has been replaced with flashy neons! I head to the Donghuamen Night Market, an endless array of street vendors for all tastes: beef on a skewer, dumplings, skewered star fish, scorpion and sea horse. My dinner: dumplings, ridiculously hot noodles, fried snake and grilled octopus. Yummm!

Nov. 21: It’s freezing cold, but I only have three days to be a tourist: Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Bell Tower — a busy day of sights. I got lost in hutongs (labyrinth-like alleyways). This six hour walk brings me and my frozen feet to the Houhai nightlife district. Within a few paces of each other I can see a hip-hop bar, a metal bar and a country bar. It is complete cacophony outside!

Nov. 22: The famous Silk Market. You can buy anything from tailored suits to knockoff designer bags, tea, toys, golf clubs… as long as you are willing to be pulled at from each side, bullied, cornered in a stall and called names. Someone called me cheap.  Hey, I’ve been called worse!

Nov. 23: The Great Wall! Truly a wonder of the world. Afterward, I decide to “sample” the famous Dadong Peking Duck. Since I am quite hungry, I also try a roasted pigeon. Little that I know, I received the entire duck and later stumbled back to my hotel in a food coma.

Nov. 24: Tourist time over; time to work. I deliver a seminar  to about 60 potential students from Beijing Normal University and Beijing University of Post and Telecommunication. It’s easy to brag about quantum information and IQC! In the evening I have dinner with some Canadian delegates and the Canadian trade commissioner.

Nov. 25: PhDChina, a big international grad expo, kicks off. The Dean of Graduate Studies at the prominent Tsinghua University is impressed with IQC! Later, the Canadian Embassy held a roundtable for 30 Chinese universities and the embassies of Japan and Korea. Lots of good networking!

Nov. 26: Meeting with China Scholarship Council. A great partnership with uWaterloo: if CSC provides a living stipend to a potential Waterloo student, then the university waives tuition. Excellent recruitment idea.

Nov. 27- 28: The PhDChina event. I share the tiny table with Jeanette and Prof. Lei Xu of uWaterloo Civil Engineering, who just happens to be in China at the time. More than 1,200 students come to the event and it feels like they all visit our table. Waterloo has clout!

Nov. 29: Following PhDChina, I head to Tsinghua University to give a presentation. Pekin University students are also invited. Prof. Gui Lu Long has a strong team working in quantum information, NMR, optics and communication. They put me to work on their NMR spectrometer! Ah, Ph.D. memories!

Nov. 30: Heading home, armed with CVs from some awesome potential IQC students, new connections and… 10 extra pounds!

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The cycle of seasons

It’s another frigid, blustery day up here in Waterloo. We Canucks proudly boast about our four distinct seasons, but by late-January, when the Seasonal Affective Disorder really kicks in, we also tend to grouse about our salt-caked cars slippy-sliding all over our icy roads.

Well, not all of us.

Some hardy folks, including IQC faculty member Frank Wilhelm-Mauch, happily bundle up and hit the streets on two wheels, pedaling through whatever nastiness the Canadian winter can throw at them.

Frank is part of a small but growing community of daring souls for whom bicycling is a year-round activity. Most mornings, you can spot Frank locking up his bike — studded tires and all — then dusting the snow off his coat and heading up to his office to ponder macroscopic dynamical quantum tunneling and the like. The rest of us applaud, but do not wish to join him for, his daily commute.

You can read all about Frank and his fellow winter warriors in an article published recently in The Record.

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Ars Technica recently challenged their readers to a DIY science contest – use video to explain a scientific concept in terms that a high school class would understand and be genuinely interested in.

Our friend Krister Shalm showed up with a kickin’ video on entanglement. Check it out!

What is Entanglement? from Krister Shalm on Vimeo.

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The second annual TEDxWaterloo event is coming up on March 3 at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square, and promises to be another fascinating day of engaging and eclectic speakers.

The inaugural TEDxWaterloo (a local, grassroots version of the highly popular TED Talks) was held last year, and featured a talk by IQC Director Raymond Laflamme.

Raymond’s talk spans the history of scientific inquiry, from cavemen discovering fire to the quantum information revolution — an impressive feat, given the 18-minute time limit! Check it out:

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Want to explore the complexities of quantum theory through the magic of video gaming?

Look no further than Quantum, a quarter-gobbling arcade game released in 1982.

The game accurately simulates quantum mechanical concepts such as superposition, entanglement and teleportation.  And by “accurately,” we really mean “not accurately at all.”

Using a trackball, the player draws a line (let’s call it a laser, just to be charitable) around “particles” that float about the screen. If this “laser” bumps into the wrong “particles,” the player loses points (to be charitable again, let’s call this decoherence).

The particles in the game have truly quantummy names, like photon and positrons and nuclei and triphons.

But sadly, that seems to be where any real similarities to quantum theory end. The game might as well have been called “Drawing Lines Around Dots,” which is not nearly as cool but way more accurate.

Unsurprisingly, the game stinks. According to gaming lore, only 500 of the games were ever made, and a good number of them were returned by disgruntled arcade owners who claimed the games didn’t work right. It’s impossible to know how many of those arcade owners disliked the game because it failed to accurately depict Bell Inequalities and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Have a look. Just watching the game is reputedly more fun than actually playing it:

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