Archive for February, 2011

I recently returned from Washington, DC, where approximately 5,000 researchers, policy-makers, journalists and science communicators from around the world gathered for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

From morning to night, in Washington’s sprawling convention centre and nearby hotels, speakers explored practically every imaginable branch of science, from space exploration and climate change to robotics and oral hygiene. And thankfully there were plenty of workshops aimed at people like me, whose jobs require translating the complex minutiae of scientific research into clear, compelling English.

This is easier said than done, particularly when it comes to quantum science, since trying to explain quantum processes in simple English is like trying eat soup with chopsticks. The language we use to describe the everyday world tends to fall short of accurately conveying all the counter-intuitive goings-on of the subatomic realm.

So I sought the advice of self-described “science comedian” Brian Malow, who delivered an insightful and refreshingly funny talk during the conference (much funnier than the session on the global shortage of Helium3). Malow has made a career of studying scientific research and mining it for unlikely nuggets of comedic gold. When communicating science, he says, accuracy is always king, but a court jester can certainly help get a message across.

As Isaac Asimov once wrote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny…'”

During his talk, Malow elicited some laughs (and groans) with some nerdilicious one-liners, including:

Helium walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says “We don’t serve noble gases in here.” The Helium doesn’t react.

A neutrino walks into a bar. The bartender says “We don’t serve neutrinos in here.” The neutrino says “I was just passing through.”

If you can make people laugh (or just groan), Malow said, you’re much more likely to get your points heard. So I’ve decided to start collecting quantum jokes, quips and one-liners. Here are a few more of Malow’s:

Schrodinger’s cat walks into a bar and doesn’t.

A higgs-boson walks into a church. The priest says “Higgs-bosons aren’t allowed in here.” The higgs-boson says “But without me, how can you have mass?”

Know any other quantum yuks? Leave comments!


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Big congratulations go out to IQC postdoc Krister Shalm, who surprised his girlfriend this morning with a marriage proposal.  While choosing to pop the question on Valentine’s Day might not have been the most groundbreaking idea, his execution of the proposal gets top marks for originality. He made her this video:

Jaime said yes (who could resist that kind of proposal?) so they are now engaged — or should we say entangled?

Congratulations Krister and Jaime!

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Quantum-Nano Construction…

Later this year, uWaterloo’s explorers of the quantum realm are moving into a new building on the university’s main campus.

The Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre will be a shared home for the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.

The building was constructed specifically for IQC and WIN and was designed to meet the most stringent standards for vibration, temperature, humidity and low electromagnetic radiation.

The QNC will be complete later in 2011 – check out the construction pics we took last week!
office hallway

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A Brief History of Hawking

It’s not every day that the world’s most famous living scientist stops by your workplace to have a look around. So we here at the Institute for Quantum Computing were delighted to host Dr. Stephen Hawking for a tour of our labs last summer.

The occasion served as a reunion for Hawking and IQC Director Raymond Laflamme, who was a doctoral student of Hawking’s in the 1980s.  During that time, Laflamme proved Hawking wrong about what happens to the direction of time in a contracting universe (Hawking incorrectly believed that time shifts into reverse). Hawking, grateful for the correction, personalized Laflamme’s copy of A Brief History of Time by thanking him for proving that “the arrow of time is not a boomerang.”

So a boomerang seemed like the perfect memento for Laflamme to give Hawking as a memento of his visit to IQC last summer.

This video nicely conveys the spirit of the day:

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I recently did an interview at OmegaTau Podcast on the topic of quantum computing. This really interesting two-person not-for-profit organization was created to offer podcasts on topics in science and engineering. What a great experience!

Check out my first podcast and find out what I think about how quantum computing works, models of quantum computing, current and future uses and my take on the current state of the art.


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