Thursday, January 19, 2017

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

From the — I actually wrote this!? — file....



Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Jonathan P. Dowling

As the physicist and famed textbook author John D. Jackson once said, “Asking an experienced teacher about his teaching philosophy is like asking a fish about his swimming philosophy — it had better be second nature!” Another quote I am fond of was from one of my own woman undergraduate students, who told me, “The reason you are such a great teacher, is that there is no concept too easy for you to explain!” This taught me a lot. Anybody at my level can explain the difficult concepts — that is the easy part. Apparently my gift is to have the patience and wisdom to take a concept that may seem “easy” to me and parse it in a way that it resonates with each student.

At the graduate level, I view my role as instructor to be far more than a lecturing and grading automaton, but rather a role model for the graduate students to emulate to be the teacher and physicist. As a student, I was able to learn how to teach by emulating the masters, and learn how not to teach by studying pitfalls. Physics is a notoriously difficult subject to teach well, as the subject matter has a tendency to delivered in a dry, stuffy atmosphere, where any creative embellishments in the delivery of the material are viewed as a distraction from the accurate conveyance of the subject matter.

In order to make the subject matter of physics come alive, I have taken it upon myself to read many biographies and histories of famous physicists and their discoveries, and I weave these stories into my presentations in such a way that the spirit of Einstein and Schrödinger may live again in the room, as we learn together about not only their successes, but also their failures. Too often, physics is presented as a fait accompli, which sprang complete from the foreheads of our forefathers in its present, canned, homogenized, and pasteurized form Young scientists, struggling with their own successes and failures in their own research, need to know it is okay to make mistakes. This lesson is one of the most important for a student to learn. The second most important point is to have fun in what you are doing and to love it. It is hard for some young people to believe that physics should be fun, so I try bring them around by having fun with it myself in the classroom. With that they learn also that life is too short not to do what they love most.

Once you get across the point that learning physics can be fun, and that it is fine to make mistakes, then the students are all on board and it is smooth sailing. The quiet ones open up. The bold ones become wise and thoughtful. The assignments seem less tedious, the exams less onerous. For required core graduate courses, such as quantum mechanics, this lesson needs to be learned to face the vast amount of required material and the grueling exams. For graduate electives, such as the two-semester quantum optics course I designed and executed, it is critical to get this out front so the students will find time in their busy schedules to work hard with me on a mere elective.

From an operational point of view, I mix up the traditional lecture format with either planned or unplanned in-class student presentations. One of my favorite modes of classroom instruction is to take a seat among the students and discuss with them, not lecture to them, with each taking a turn to lead the discussion or go to the board and make their point, in mathematics or prose, and to have their peers and me weigh in on that point. Once broken of the fear to speak up in class — learning begins. This goes for my formal classes, and for my own research group meetings and seminars — where even the youngest undergraduate student must be made to feel free to be able to challenge a point the professor is making — especially since the undergraduate student is often right! A recent visitor to our group, Prof. Hal Metcalf from the State University of New York, was enthusiastic about our group discussions because, unlike in other research groups he’s visited, everybody in my group has a voice — and more importantly — is not afraid to use it!

In the end, as I teach, I am myself a role model for the student, not just as an aspiring physicist and scientist, but as a member of the educated citizenry that will guide the future of our world.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Wheeler vs. Dowling in the War of the Commas


In 1990, while still a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, I was writing a paper with the John A. Wheeler and the Wolfgang P. Schleich, entitled, “Interference in Phase Space.” I had first met Wheeler years before, when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, where I audited his course, “Quantum Measurement Theory,” taught jointly with Wojciech H. Zurek. When I asked Wheeler for permission to audit, he said to me, “How much trouble could one undergraduate student be?” 

Taking that as challenge, I would sit in the front and constantly ask questions until the graduate students threatened to take me out in the parking lot and beat me up. I finally told them all that I knew karate (at that time a yellow belt in tae kwon do) and they left me alone after that so I could still interrupt class.

The paper, “Interference in Phase Space,” was a review article on phase-space methods in quantum optics; a topic that Wheeler and Schleich began working on in Texas when Schleich was a postdoc there. My primary job on the paper was to type up the whole thing in TeX. (This was back in the day when women were women and men were men and we all wrote our own macro packages and had no need for that namby pamby LaTex.) I also helped with some of the calculations and preparing the figures. Even sometimes I had help with double-checking the English, as when Schleich accidentally translated the German nickname for Bohr’s Correspondence Principle, Bohr’s Zauberstab, as “Bohr’s Magic Stick” (instead of “Bohr’s Magic Wand”).

Wheeler refused to let anybody start writing the body of the paper until we had all the figures and figure captions done up to his liking. We would lay the figures end to end and endlessly discuss their ordering, the captions, the style of the drawings, etc. In this way we had a very clear storyboard of the paper long before I started typing the main text. This is a very useful technique that I still use to this day, especially with students and colleagues who have writer’s block.

Schleich and I were working in Garching, Germany, and Wheeler was back at Princeton. As I typeset the manuscript, which eventually ran to nearly 50 pages, I would fax drafts of it to Wheeler to mark up and fax back to me to make his changes. We must have had done nearly 20 rounds of this faxing back and forth. Of course, being the junior author, I mostly implemented Wheeler’s changes as were given to me, but for one particular typesetting bone of contention. When Wheeler would refer to a short snippet of mathematics (that followed the noun that defined it) let us say “The variable x is inserted into the function f(x) in order to....,” he would put these math terms in parenthetical commas, e.g., “The variable, x, is inserted into the function, f(x), in order to….”

If you have read Knuth’s big book of TeX or various physics author style manuals, you learn that putting short math expressions like this in commas is considered old fashioned and is frowned upon. Figuring that the Editors would delete these commas in the final typesetting at the Annalen der Physik, I simply left them out of the manuscript. 

In that way then the battle with Wheeler over the commas had begun.

I would diligently fax the 50-page draft of the manuscript to Princeton, over and over again, sans the parenthetical commas around the short math, and Wheeler would send back his revised draft where, by hand, he would painstakingly add each and every one of those mission commas back in again. One must realize in a 50-page theoretical physics paper there were thousands of such corrections in each round. Just writing the commas in, alone, must have taken him hours in each review.

Finally he had enough. One day my office phone in Germany rang and it was Wheeler, calling long distance from Princeton, and he was understandably quite upset. “Dowling, he growled into the phone, why are you not putting my commas back into the manuscript!?” I replied, evenly, “Prof. Wheeler, putting parenthetical commas around such short math expressions in a physics journal is old fashioned and is recommended against in the journal’s style guide. Besides, the editors will just remove them.”

Stunned into a moment of silence, Wheeler then barked back, “I have been putting parenthetical commas around my short mathematical expressions since before you were born!” I paused, and then answered, firmly, “Perhaps so, Prof. Wheeler, but it is I who is typing this darn 50-page manuscript!”

He hung up on me.

I won the battle. In the end the commas stayed out. (I don’t think Schleich ever knew about this battle.) Some years later, in the mid-1990s, I ran into Wheeler at a conference reception. I went to say hello but at first he did not recognize me. So I said, “Wheeler, it’s me, Dowling — the smart-mouthed postdoc who would never put your commas back in our manuscript!” Wheeler’s jaw dropped and then, just when I though he was going to punch me, he started to laugh, and then he patted me on the back. “Dowling! You know you know that fight over the commas nearly put me in a coma?” Then I laughed too and wandered off to the bar.

That was the last time I ever saw Wheeler.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Quantum Pundit's Science Predictions for 2016!


"Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future." 

Niels Bohr

 

At the end of each year, multitudes of science rags (on and offline) present their lists of the N (where N is around 10) most important science discoveries of that year. For 2015, a quick and unscientific Google search provides the following top-ten-list fodder for that year in review:

1.     Researchers Discover New Phase of Carbon
2.     Astronomers Discover ‘Fat Jupiter’ And ‘Twin Earths’
3.     Doctors Grow Human Vocal Cords from Scratch
4.     Have Scientists Found A New Particle Bigger Than Higgs Boson?
5.     2015 is Hottest Year on Record
6.     New Pluto Photos Show Edges of Its Frozen Heart
7.     Europe To Build Base On MOON By 2030 Using 3D Printer
8.     China Set To Launch 'Hack Proof' Quantum Communications Network
9.     Spooky Action at a Distance Is Real
10. Neil deGrasse Tyson Claims Entanglement can be used to Communicate Backwards in Time

But highlighting what happened in the past year is easy. The real money is predicting what will happen in the year to come. Here are some actual psychic predictions for 2016 from true psychics (as opposed to all those fake ones):

1.     Scientists Will Breed a Hybrid of a Dog and a Cat
2.     Drones Will Strike Buckingham Palace
3.     Naked Picture of Kim Jong-Un Will Cause a Political Row
4.     World Peace Will Break Out
5.     Australia Will Soon Be At War
6.     Farmers Will Develop a New Strain of Cauliflower
7.     Justin Bieber will Become Involved With an Older Woman
8.     A Comet Will Come Out of Nowhere and Bring Awe and Wonder to Humanity

It would appear that Niels Bohr was wrong; predictions about the future are remarkably easy to make — so long as they don’t have to be also true. And so month-by-month here are my psychic science predictions for 2016.  

(Disclaimer: Quantum Pundit's psychic predictions have no basis in science and are provided here for entertainment purposes only.)

January — High Energy Physics

 

CERN announces that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has found evidence for yet a third Higg’s-like resonance at a whopping 1,125 GeV. In the ecstasy of irrational (and un-peer-reviewed) exuberance, CERN leaks information about the discovery to the Journal of Irreproducible Results, the National Enquirer, and Portable Restroom Operator Monthly Magazine. Sole evidence for the new particle, dubbed by CERN as the “triphoton”, is what appears to be a tiny bump, nearly imperceptible to the human eye, on a single data curve displayed on a low-resolution CRT computer screen in the LHC cafeteria (between the toilets and the ATM). Nevertheless, the story is picked up by the Associated Press, who renames the triphoton “The Holy Ghost Particle” — third in a row after, "The God Particle (the Higgs Boson) and "The Jesus Particle" (the diphoton). Within several days thousands of theory papers are posted to the HEP-TH high-energy theory preprint archive explaining the physical origins of the triphoton. (However, no two of any of these thousands of theory papers agree with each other.)

Within hours of the announcement, the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds of scientists the world over are bogged down with requests for input from sketchy online newspapers, and the Huffington Post, about their opinions on the existence of the triphoton, and particularly, whether or not they believe that its discovery indeed provides proof for the existence of The Holy Trinity. Several hundred physicists claim that they do indeed believe precisely this, in a shameless bid to win the 2016 Templeton Prize. Pope Francis refuses to comment on the data, saying only, "Who am I to fudge?"

A Twitter flame war over the Holy-Trinity-particle question breaks out between Richard Dawkins, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Koko the Gorilla, which causes the entire Internet to crash for a nearly a minute around midnight on January 5th, the feast day of St. John Neumann. Upon seeing this happen, unbelieving quantum physicists the world over undergo a spontaneous conversion to the Holy Trinity Particle creed. (The next day, however, most of them renounce their newfound belief when Pope Francis explains to them that St. John Neumann and St. John von Neumann were two entirely different people.)

As more and more data is collected, the data bump never seems to be any clearer, and stubbornly stays within only a single sigma of statistical confidence level. Finally, on January 31st, the feast day of St. Xavier Bianchi, a member of the LHC janitorial staff points out that the so-called bump is actually a fingerprint smudge on the computer screen, and he promptly removes it with a spritz of Windex and a Wet Wipe. This explanation for the data bump causes great dismay for the loop-quantum-gravity theorists, until the same janitor explains to them that St. Bianchi is not the patron saint of the Bianchi identities.

Later in the year, stand-up comedian, rabbinical scholar, and string theorist, Sarah Silverman, will publish a paper in which she claims to have found hidden messages in the Pentateuch that predicted the existence of the pentaquark nearly three thousand years ago. Dr. Silverman handily wins the 2016 Templeton Prize, only to announce on her deathbed (many years later and after she spent all the money) that it was all a hoax and that she never believed in pentaquarks in the first place. With this off her mind she dies peacefully, surrounded by friends, family, and the ghost of Murray Gell-Mann, who then guides her through the eight-fold way into the afterlife.

February – Biochemistry

 

The agrochemical giant, Santmono Corporation, modifies the gene-editing tool, CRISPR/Cas into a now trademarked tool they rename TOASTR/Aas. The TOASTR/Aas gene-splicing tool is specifically designed to make any photosynthetic plant life more susceptible to being killed off by Santmono’s premier weed killer, Roundoff. The TOASTR/Aas tool is used to make a gene drive that is then "accidentally" released into the wild, causing the collapse of worldwide agriculture. Santmono responds by marketing a “non-plant-based-human-food supplement” they christen SoLessGreen™ in order to prevent worldwide starvation. Santmono gives sole distribution rights to distribute SoLessGreen™ to the now nearly bankrupt Pichotle restaurant chain (whose motto “Food With Decency!” had recently been changed to “Food with Dysentery!”). Pichotle is relieved, as, unlike their previous food line, it was clear that no virus, bacterium, or prion could survive for more than a few seconds in SoLessGreen™. The truth about the origins of SoLessGreen™ is uncovered by a group of agri-terrorist grammarians but the secret is never revealed to the public, as the group cannot agree if the public announcement should read “SoLessGreen™ is people!” or “SoLessGreen™ are people!” and Charlton Heston is no longer around for a consult.

March – Biology

 

Urban biologists will report that "pizza rat" (the rat caught on film dragging a slice of pizza into a New York subway station), is not an ordinary Norwegian rat but rather a newly evolved species of rat that is building a large hive-like structure (complete with a three-ton queen rat) in the New York subway tunnel system. The new species is named Rattus pizzapylori, and it is discovered that it can only survive by eating New-York-style pizza (much as a panda can only survive by eating one species of bamboo). As the hive grows to the point where geysers of engorged rats are spouting forth from all the street manholes (which is, frankly, just a regular day in New York City), Mayor Bill de Blasio concocts a plan to feed the queen rat a Chicago-style pizza, which is well known to be inedible by all life forms. The queen dies within minutes, taking the entire hive with her, and as torrential rains from a freak typhoon called “Super Storm Shandy” wash the carcasses of dead rats from the sewers out into Long Island Sound, not one of the New Yorkers notices a damn thing.

April — Space Science

 

NASA scientists excitedly hold two last-minute press conferences where they announce that they have found water on Mars and that the Voyager spaceship has left the Solar System. When a canny reporter for the New York Times retorts that these same NASA scientists have been making these exact same two claims every few months for the past ten years, the reporter is taken to JPL and given a deep-space probe.

After NASA's New Horizons mission captured a spectacular photo of a human-heart-shaped feature on the surface of Pluto in 2015, in 2016 it will fly by one of Pluto's orbital companions and capture a photo of a new feature on its surface that looks like a pair of human buttocks. Scientists extol the fact that Charon had been literally mooning Pluto for millions of years. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) passes a resolution to rename Pluto the Dwarf Planet, "Sneezy".

SETI will announce they have discovered evidence than extraterrestrials have been secretly communicating with Earth for several decades. They triangulate the signals and find that they have all along been directed to Donald Trump’s hair. Further investigations reveal that his hair is actually a orange-hamster-like alien life form that has been glommed onto his noggin since the 1980s and stealthily controlling his mind using telepathy, in order to win the US presidency, and thus hasten the hostile takeover of the Earth by a sentient race of orange hamsters. Scientists immediately embrace the news, as it is clear that no other theory can reasonably explain the success of Trump’s television show, The Celebrity Apprentice. CIA operatives work feverishly to create a portable psionic-dampening field around The Donald’s hair, and catastrophe is then narrowly averted. SETI scientists will have no time to relax, as further analysis of the extraterrestrial signals reveals the existence of a second invasive alien species. One of which, disguised as a white feather duster, is attached to the otherwise bald head of Bernie Sanders.

May — Technology

 

The 3N Corporation will develop a 3D printer that is capable of printing working copies of itself using only solar energy and sand as input. A shipping error results in a prototype of the printer being shipped to a FedEx (formerly Kinkos) copying center in Barstow, California. The store manager, unwilling to pay the return-shipping fee, dumps the 3N3D printer in the local landfill, where it springs into action and begins churning out copies of itself at an exponential rate. Within days the entire Inland Empire is blanketed with 3D printers that threatened to end life on Earth, as we know it, by converting the entire planet’s crust into 3D printers. In the nick of time a fleet of stealth bombers from nearby Edwards Air Force Base, equipped with top-secret laser cannons, blankets the region with laser fire, thereby melting all the printers (and the inhabitants) into a molten sea of glassy slag. A memorial plaque is placed in what was once Barstow to honor all of those who were vaporized.

Nearby, Gögle Corporation will launch its well-publicized “Project Loonacy” from Moffett Federal Airfield near Mountain View, California. As originally envisioned, fleets of high-altitude helium filled balloons, carrying on-board solar-powered wireless routers, would provide Internet access to the most inaccessible spots on the globe. Alas, due to the continuing worldwide helium shortage, Gögle takes the drastic measure of replacing the helium-filled balloons with hydrogen-filled balloons instead. A memorial plaque is placed in was once Mountain View to honor all of those who were vaporized.

Waysag Corporation will release a new model of their hoverboard that will actually hover (as opposed to just roll around on the sidewalk an periodically pitch the rider into oncoming freeway traffic). They solve the ongoing problems related to the devices’ batteries bursting into flames — or just flat-out exploding — by replacing all the rechargeable sealed lead acid batteries with plutonium fuel cells. This works well until a group of hoverboard enthusiasts, returning from a hoverboard competition in Duluth, Minnesota, decide to pack several hundred of their hoverboards into a single towed U-Haul trailer. They exceed critical mass for runaway nuclear fission and Duluth is reduced to a smoldering pile of glowing embers, while the rest of Minnesota enjoys an early summer. A memorial plaque is placed in what was once Duluth to honor all of those who were vaporized.

June — Mathematics

 

After the famous 2002 proof that PRIMES is in P, and the recent tantalizing 2015 result that the Graph Isomorphism Problem is solvable classically in quasi-polynomial time, a Lithuanian mathematician at the University of Vilnius, discovers a classical polynomial time integer factoring algorithm and programs it into a desktop telephone-answering machine before he is assassinated by a gang of rouge computer scientists. The discovery renders the most pressing cryptoanalytical need to develop a quantum computer moot, and the computer scientists hold the economy of the World hostage by threatening to publish the classical factoring algorithm on the Internet, thereby causing collapse of Internet commerce. Robert Redford and his group of hackers (secretly working for the NSA) take out the rouge computer scientists, and the telephone answering machine is recovered and secreted in a giant underground government storage facility, next to the Arc of the Covenant. In order to keep all this a secret, the NSA gives Dan Akroyd a Winnebago as a bribe to maintain his silence.

July — Computer Science

 

Not to be outdone by the success of IBM's Watson computer in playing Jeopardy, T-Wave Systems programs its newly released T-Wave 3Y Computer System to play Wheel of Fortune. In a double-blind series of tests, the T-Wave machine scores slightly better than chance, when pitted against either Richard Dawkins, The Archbishop of Canterbury, or Koko the Gorilla. T-Wave trumpets this result as proof of the existence of an exponential speed-up in their quantum computer. However MIT professor Aaron Scottson, ever the party pooper, points out that the T-Wave machine cheats as it is also programmed to regularly compliment Vanna White on her snazzy outfits, and given that it is she who is in charge of choosing which letters on the board to light up, it is Prof. Scottson's claim that T-Wave is skewing with the results.

August — Astronomy

 

The Kepler, space-based, exoplanet observatory loses the third of four original gyroscopes, potentially rendering the craft useless, as it is now unable to point itself. After losing the second of four gyroscopes in 2013, crafty NASA engineers were able to stabilize the craft by balancing the solar wind pressure across the surface of the spaceship. With the third gyroscope now out of commission, the engineers will come up with a fix whereby, in addition to the solar wind, they balance the cosmic background radiation and vacuum fluctuation pressure across the ship. This leaves the telescope pointing forever at a single fixed point in the sky. There the astronomers find, orbiting a Sun-like star in the Goldilocks zone, an Earth-sized planet that appears to have liquid water and the spectrum of oxygen in the atmosphere; both telltale signs of life. They name the planet Kepler-137q but the press quickly nicknames it “Alderaan” given its likeness to the fictional planet from the Star Wars films. The planet also has orbiting it what appears to be a small moon, which the astronomers name “Lovell” (after retired astronaut Jim Lovell).

After several weeks of observing Alderaan and its companion, one NASA astronomer exclaims, “That’s no moon!” and Alderaan suddenly disappears in what appears to be catastrophic explosion. Meanwhile the so-called moon, Lovell, moves out of view, seemingly under its own power. Given that they literally have nowhere else to look, the sad and lonely NASA “extronomers” continue to look for Lovell in Alderaan places.

As August comes to an end, a comet will appear out of nowhere and bring awe and wonder to humanity.

September — Economics

 

At the headquarters of the investment management company, Pimpco Corporation, in Oldport Beach, California, Satan Incarnate will appear in the cubicle of a “quant” stock market trader, named Donna Giovanni, who is located in a windowless subbasement of a Quonset hut on the perimeter of the Pimpco campus. Lucifer will offer Ms. Giovanni a working quantum computer, a faster-than-light communicator, and a quantum algorithm for solving the Black-Scholes stock derivative equation in BQP runtime. All this he offers her in exchange for her immortal soul. Ms. Giovanni, who is sure she is already damned anyway for working at Pimpco, gladly accepts the offer. She then sets up a superfast trading station in the sub-basement that allows her to make stock trades faster than anybody else, by exploiting the quantum algorithm, the quantum computer, and by communicating with the Wall Street trading computers instantaneously, using the faster-than-light communicator. Within a few weeks she earns trillions of dollars for Pimpco (and a hefty billion-dollar bonus for herself) before her shenanigans trigger a stock market flash-crash that wipes out the life savings of millions of people and sends world into a second great recession. Luckily for her, Ms. Giovanni cashes in her stocks before the crash, is promoted to president of the company, and lives a long and luxurious life off her wealth before she dies peacefully in her bed surrounded by her friends, family, Beelzebub, and the ghost of Murray Gell-Mann. As Gell-Mann guides her through the eight-fold way into the afterlife, the Devil returns empty handed to Hades. (As Ms. Giovanni had suspected, she had already sold her immortal soul to Pimpco many years before Old Scratch* ever showed up.)

* “Old Scratch” is a name of the Devil, chiefly in Southern US English. It is rarely, if ever, used to refer to Prof. Murray Gell-Mann.

October — Quantum Physics

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson, still reeling from the repercussions of claiming in 2015, on his television show StarTalk, that backward in time communications are possible using quantum entangled particles, contacts Ms. Giovanni at Pimpco corporation (after the stock market crash) and offers to buy her diabolical faster-than-light communicator for a bargain price. (A faster-than-light communicator doubles as a backwards-in-time communicator.) Dr. deGrasse Tyson then uses the machine to send a message backwards in time to tell his earlier 2015 self not to make that claim on television again, until such time as the future Dr. deGrasse Tyson had secured the patent rights to the communicator. The plan backfires when, due to quantum coherence, the message has the effect of producing a quantum-Schrödinger-cat-like superposition of Neil deGrasse Tysons, one who did make such a claim in 2015 on television and the other who did not. These deGrasse Tysons become quantum entangled with a superposition of future 2016 deGrasse Tysons, one who patents the faster-than-light communicator and the other who does not.

The resulting paradox rips a rift in the entire space-time continuum, which threatens to suck the entire universe into a super-duper massive black hole whose center is located at the Tokyo patent office. The universe is saved, however, at the last minute when a strange looking Englishman, wearing a bad suit, a bowtie, and a fez, emerges from a blue police box in the lobby of the Hayden Planetarium and repairs the rift (and also undoes the stock market crash and the collapse of worldwide agriculture while he is at it) with a glowing and buzzing green handheld magic wand, which the curious traveller claims is a screwdriver. After this all blows over, quantum physicists decide to hold an emergency international workshop on closed time-like curves, to which they invite as plenary speakers, Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Deutsch, and the online Random Fictional Deepak Chopra Quote Generator. (Example from that last one; “Your desire embraces innumerable photons.”)

Later in the month T-Wave will announce that have finally built a working quantum computer, the T-Wave 4Z, capable of solving intractable mathematical problems of tremendous practical importance. Nobody will believe them. Nevertheless, MIT Prof. Aaron Scottson will write a fiery blog post condemning the announcement. The United States will continue for the rest of the year to not invest in photonic quantum information processing and therefore the Chinese will be the first to invent the quantum Internet, just in time for Christmas.

November — Chemistry

 

Chemists manage to coax a large sheet of graphene to grow into the shape of a Klein bottle, which is a topological oddity; namely a hollow three-dimensional object, with a two-dimensional surface, embedded in a four-dimensional space. The chemists name the new object the “funkyball”. A key property of any Klein bottle is that its inside is the same as its outside, so that it can never be bigger on the inside than on the outside. As the chemists run electrical tests on the new material to search for signs of semiconducting or even superconducting properties, they begin receiving strange signals from the funkyball that seem to be intelligent in origin. Having nowhere else to turn, they call in Jody Foster, who explains that the signals are in fact repetitions of the first million digits of pi in base three (or perhaps the first million digits of three in base pi). The chemists have inadvertently opened a trans-dimensional portal and made contact with extra-dimensional beings that live in spatial dimensions four through six. As the days go by, a rudimentary simultaneous translator is developed that allows the chemists to communicate with the beings in Morse code (base pi).

Things go well for a while. For example the chemists learn that the extra-dimensional beings are composed entirely of dark matter and have hitherto only interacted with our own universe gravitationally. The transdimensional beings amusingly note that in dimensions four through six, our own universe back here is considered to be made of what they call dark matter that acts only gravitationally with them.

Matters take a turn for the würst when the human chemists reveal that on Earth people still eat meat while the shocked extra-dimensional aliens declare that they are all vegans. Terrified that our meat-eating ways might corrupt their young, the aliens decide to destroy all human and animal life in our universe by attempting to send an army of self-replicating killer nanobots from the fourth dimension through the funkyball and into our domain.

In the nick of time the chemists call in an elite squad of militant carnivorous topologists, who succeed in convincing the chemists to cut funkyball in half using an ion beam. This well-known topological operation reduces the Klein bottle into two Möbius strips; two, one-sided, two-dimensional objects embedded in ordinary three-dimensional space. Their swift action cuts off the portal to the fourth dimension, destroying all the nanobots in mid-transport, and saving our universe.

The chemists and the topologists share the 2016 Fields medal.

December — Earth Science

 

NASA earth scientists will declare 2016 to be the hottest year on record (after declaring both 2014 and 2015 to also be the hottest years on record). Senator James Inhofe, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, will call a joint session of congress, and subpoena NASA and other climate scientists to testify before it, to allow the Senator to protest the NASA scientists’ findings. Having trouble finding a snowball this time around, as it is 83°F in Washington DC on that day in December, Senator Inhofe drives to the nearby Dairy Queen ice cream shop in Arlington, Virginia, and purchases a vanilla ice cream milkshake, which he then dutifully totes back to congress and displays on the floor, claiming, “Ladies and gentlemen this ice cream milkshake is proof that global warming is a hoax!” He then hurls the milkshake at the head of Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi. Congresswoman Pelosi is, however, more agile than Inhofe gives her credit for, and she ducks. The milkshake instead hits Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, squarely on his newly bearded jaw. Since Dairy Queen ice cream milkshakes contain neither ice cream nor milk, but rather Plasticine-like substances more akin to Epoxy and Elmer's Glue, the white milkshake sticks to Congressman Ryan’s beard and hair, making him look for all the world like Santa Claus.

The entire incident is broadcast on live television worldwide and millions of confused children begin to telephone Congressman Ryan’s office number with their Christmas lists. In desperation, Congressman Ryan contacts The Official NORAD Santa Tracker for help. NORAD agrees to automatically forward the calls to their own Santa Claus Christmas list phone number, which they have been using since 1955, and to track now both Santa Claus and Paul Ryan on Christmas Eve to soothe the nerves of all the confused children. The standard NORAD videos of 24 hours of Santa zipping around the globe in his flying sleigh and delivering presents delight children the world over, as usual. The NORAD videos of Congressman Ryan were less popular, as they showed that he spent most of Christmas Eve working out at the gym and lighting candles over the tomb of Ayn Rand.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Boson-Sampling-Inspired Quantum Metrology

Our group at Louisiana State University has teamed up with researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney and Boise State University in Boise to produce an new publication in Physical Review Letters, entitled, “Linear Optical Quantum Metrology with Single Photons: Exploiting Spontaneously Generated Entanglement to Beat the Shot-Noise Limit.” For regular readers of this blog, you will know that Boson Sampling is a new paradigm in quantum computing whereby single photons, inputted into a linear optical interferometer, can carry out a mathematical sampling problem that would be intractable on classical computer. The buzz surrounding Boson Sampling is that, unlike universal linear optical quantum computing, the experimental implementation requires no special quantum gates, like controlled-NOT gates, nor feed forward nor teleportation or any other fancy stuff. Identical single photons rattle around in the interferometer and they are sampled in the number basis when they come out. Sounds simple, but a classical machine cannot efficiently simulate the sampling output, whereas the linear optical device does this quite easily. For our recent review on Boson Sampling the reader is encouraged to go here.

In spite of all the excitement about Boson Sampling as a new paradigm for quantum information processing, the Boson Sampling problem has no know practical application to any mathematics problem anybody is interested in. In some ways the situation is similar to the late 1980s and early 1990s, before Shor’s invention of his factoring algorithm, when the first quantum algorithm shown to give an exponential speedup was the Deutsch-Jozsa (DJ) algorithm that allowed one to tell if a function was balanced or unbalanced. While a very nice result, nobody really gave a rat’s ass whether a function was balanced or unbalanced. It was however hoped that the DJ algorithm was just the tip of an iceberg and indeed the rest of the iceberg was revealed when Shor’s factoring algorithm was discovered. That was an (apparent) exponential speedup on a problem that people cared deeply about.

So too do we hope that Boson Sampling is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of linear optical interferometers, with simple single-photon inputs, to carry out tasks that are not only impossible classically but also of practical interest. In that direction our paper makes a frontal attack on the berg with a metrological ice axe. The idea emerged from the understanding that in Boson Sampling, an exponentially large amount of number-path entanglement is generated through the natural evolution of the single photons in the interferometer via repeated implementation of the Hong-Ou-Mandel effect at each beam splitter. It has been known for nearly 30 years the number-path entanglement is a resource for quantum metrology, beating the shot-noise limit, and so it was natural for us to ask if this hidden power in linear optics with single photon inputs might be put to work for a metrological advantage. Our paper shows that this is indeed the case.

To briefly summarize our scheme, we send a sequence of single photons into linear optical interferometer that contains an interferometric implementation of the Quantum Fourier Transform coupled with a bank of phase shifters with an unknown phase that is to be measured. Our signal consists of a sampling of the outputs tuned to the same sequence of single photons emerging from the exit ports. The signal-to-noise analysis was quite challenging as it involves the computation of the permanent of a large square matrix with complex entries. While in general this is classically intractable, to our surprise, something about the structure of the Quantum Fourier Transform seems to allow the permanent to be computed analytically in closed form. As least we conjecture this is so. We were able to eyeball a closed form formula for the permanent of a matrix of any rank and confirm it out to rank 20 or so numerically, but a rigorous mathematical proof of the permanent formula is still wanting.

Once we had the signal and variance analysis carried out, we were able to show (carefully counting resources) that the sensitivity of the device, which we christened the Quantum Fourier Transform Interferometer, is well below the classical shot-noise limit. It has been known for years that exotic number-path entangled states, such as N00N states, can beat the shotnoise limit, but N00N states are resource intensive to create in the first place, requiring either very strong Kerr nonlinearities or non-deterministic heralding. Here in our new paper we get super sensitivity for free from the natural evolution of single photons in a passive optical linear interferometer. This then seems to be the first example of the Boson Sampling paradigm providing a quantum advantage in an arena of importance, which is quantum metrology.

 Who knows what is left on this iceberg still yet unexplored?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

UK National Strategy for Quantum Technologies


Just winding up a one-week trip to the UK where I attended the Bristol Quantum Information Technologies (BQIT) Workshop at the kind invitation of the organizers. There was some disagreement how the acronym BQIT should be pronounced but upon my arrival we instantly all agreed it should be B-QuIeT. The workshop was a lively set of short talks interspersed with panel discussions and it was the first time I heard in some detail about the new UK National Strategy for Quantum Technology from non-other than Sir Peter Knight himself, who was a speaker on one of the panels focusing on the UK Quantum Hubs Network. There was quite a bit of excitement in the air as Simon Benjamin (University of Oxford, Quantum Computing Hub) gushed effusively about writing a 12-page proposal that came in at £3 million per page! 

There are four hubs dotting the UK countryside from Scotland to England with a total five-year budget of £120M for all four of the hubs with foci in quantum communications, imaging, sensing, and computing. And to complement these hubs are at least three new quantum technologies doctoral training centers. The budget for the training centers was less clear but I suppose all together this is close to £200M for five years potentially renewable in five years for another five. And that is, folks, as they say, new money.

All this activity seems to be coordinated by the UK Quantum Technologies Strategic Advisory Board, chaired by Prof. David Delpy, which has laid out a vision for a coordinated strategy in quantum technologies development in the UK.

It is somewhat disheartening to see all of this activity in the UK from the perspective of a research in the US, where the congress and the president can’t even seem to pass any new budget at all from year to year. I wish the UK program well and I did hear that each hub has set aside funds for international collaborations and so I hope this will be the first of several trips to visit my quantum friends and colleagues on the far side of the big pond. 

For young researchers interested in doing PhD or postdoctoral work in quantum technologies, you should follow your noses and follow the money. The UK seems to be the place where the quantum of action is at these days. 


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Guest Ghost Post: The Future of QIP: To parallelize or not?


This year’s Quantum Information Processing conference (QIP) was held in the beautiful and vibrant city of Sydney, Australia from the 12th to the 16th of January. Close to 225 researchers from across the world attended the conference. The talks were hosted at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Runyao Duan led the local organizing committee, and its members were from UTS, University of Sydney, Macquarie University and University of Queensland. They did a splendid job in ensuring that the conference was a grand success.

The 18th edition of QIP featured about 40 talks and 150 posters covering various important advances in quantum information processing over the past year. A detailed summary of all the talks presented at QIP can be found on the Quantum Pontiff blog http://dabacon.org/pontiff/?p=10785, where Aram Harrow and Steve Flammia were “live-blogging” the conference. In this report, I shall focus on the things not covered by Aram and Steve, especially on the business meeting.

A lot of buzz and anticipation prevailed around this year’s business meeting at QIP. This was largely due to the pending decision on the question of whether “to parallelize or not parallelize” QIP.  Here is some background on the issue. QIP, as it stands today, is a single session-track conference featuring two kinds of talks: 50-minute plenary talks and 30-minute talks. During a five-day period minus one free afternoon, this allows for about 40 talks during the entirety of the conference. However, the number of submissions to the conference has seen a steep increase over the years due to the explosion of research in quantum information processing. What began as a workshop with a few tens of submissions in the early nineties, QIP today receives several hundred submissions each year. Thus the acceptance rates at QIP are now terrifyingly low; the rate for this year’s QIP for a talk was just about 20%.

Each year the program committee has been faced with the increasingly difficult task of rejecting at least 20 to 30 good submissions which they think are just as good as some of the other talks that make the cut. This has led the steering committee to consider introducing parallel sessions with the view that it would allow for more talks. In order to hear the public opinion on the issue, Stephanie Wehner posted a survey on the Web for the QIP community. Stephanie presented the results of the survey at the business meeting. The public sentiment on the issue seemed largely in favor of parallel sessions. When the result of the survey was shared at the business meeting, however, a major concern was raised about the possible fragmentation of the community into sub-communities. In response to this concern, Peter Shor, spoke about how not parallelizing QIP at this point could have the same fragmenting effect at a much graver level. Peter pointed out the precedent of STOC and FOCS, where the latter remained a single session conference for a long time, while the computer science community had grown many fold in size. Peter noted that in due course of time, when certain factions of the community felt that they weren’t being sufficiently accepted at the conference, they decided to split away with their own conference, the STOC. This is already beginning to happen in the quantum information community with the birth of various conferences such as QCrypt, QEC, and Beyond I.I.D. in Information Theory. These conferences provide venues for topics that are becoming more marginalized and less fashionable at the larger QIP conference.

Nevertheless, it was also pointed out by the steering committee that parallel sessions, even if introduced, would only occur during certain sessions. For instance, the plenary talks would still be held in common, and therefore couldn’t result in a complete splitting of the community. At this point, the question of logistics surfaced regarding a single track for plenary sessions and two parallel sessions for other talks, namely the need to secure one big room and two small rooms at the conference venue, which could be more expensive. Barry Sanders, the lead organizer for QIP 2016, in his presentation about the conference venue at Banff (near Calgary, Canada), however guaranteed that this would not be an issue at next year’s QIP. From the pulse of things at this year’s QIP, it seems rather likely that we will see parallel sessions in next year’s edition. Yet, this is by no means a certainty.

Another development worth mentioning from the business meeting was the proposal for open refereeing of papers at QIP. Aram Harrow and Steve Flammia, who had already implemented such a scheme at TQC (Theory of quantum computation, communication and cryptography) 2014, put forth the proposal. Aram explained why he thought referee reports of QIP submissions should be available on the public domain. The real purpose cited was not the obvious ones---it was neither to make it open the reasons behind why a paper is accepted or rejected, nor to push referees to write reports according to what this year’s program committee chair Ronald de Wolf called the “golden rule” of refereeing, namely to write referee reports the way one would like his/her own paper to be reviewed. The real reason cited was rather simply to make available expert summaries and critiques, which could immensely benefit other researchers, especially the younger researchers, which otherwise go underutilized aiding in the publication decision process alone. Although the general perception about the idea was positive, it seems unlikely that the QIP steering committee would recommend the scheme as a whole to the program committee. Ronald and Andrew Doherty raised concern about how such a scheme could result in a huge extra burden on the already over-burdened program committee. However, it seems likely that, as an intermediate step, the program committee summaries of the accepted talks would be made available to the public at QIP 2016, as was done earlier at TQC 2014.

The business meeting also saw ETH Zurich and Microsoft Research bid for hosting QIP 2017. The public opinion seemed to be in favor of the ETH bid for 2017, while it seemed that Microsoft could potentially host QIP during the subsequent year, i.e., 2018.

Earlier, proceedings at QIP this year kicked off with tutorial sessions during the weekend in the lead-up to the conference. Entry to the tutorials was included as part of the conference registration. Itai Arad of CQT covered the local Hamiltonian problem (I couldn’t make this one due to flight delay.) The second speaker of the day was Roger Colbeck of Univ. of York, who discussed the topic of device independence in quantum information processing. Roger described the goal of the device independence model in the context of cryptography as to provide unconditional security while allowing for device failure or tampering, and discussed the various tools that go into proving security of protocols within the model. He also highlighted one of the main challenges of the approach as the need of protocols that allow for reuse of the devices while guaranteeing unconditional security. On the second morning, Krysta Svore of Microsoft gave a fascinating tutorial on the various components that go into the design and implementation of quantum software architecture for an automated control and programming of tomorrow’s large-scale quantum computers. Later, Alexandre Blais of Univ. of Sherbrooke delivered the final tutorial on superconducting qubits. Addressing a largely theoretical audience, Alexandre did a splendid job of describing the basic physics behind the superconducting transmon qubit. He also discussed the control and readout via strong coupling to a microwave resonator along with results from various recent experiments.

The social aspects of the conference included a banquet and a rump session. The banquet was a fancy affair, being held on a showboat. The Sydney weather, which had been dull and rainy until then, had moved to great, UV-rich sunshine just in time for the banquet. The boat set sail from the Sydney Darling Harbor around half past seven with plenty of food, beer, wine, and the awesome folks from the conference. Some spectacular views of the Sydney skyline in the magical twilight soon followed, which were a real treat. Despite being given numerous warnings from the organizers, many participants unfortunately “missed the boat”.

This year’s rump session was a fun ride with the lighter side of the QIP community. The session was held at the “Manning” bar in the University of Sydney. Steve Flammia introduced himself as the “MR---the Master of Rump” for the night. Among the speakers, John Smolin poked fun at the ensuing trend of adding the “quantum” suffix to literally anything in the world in the name of quantum information research. Later Daniel Gottesman decided to take the new proposal for open refereeing to a whole new level. While we’ve heard of double-blinded refereeing, where the identity of the authors is conceals from the referees, Daniel suggested triple and quadruple blinding, where the text of the paper is encrypted from the referee and where the talk is concealed from the audience, respectively.

From excellent and stimulating talks and posters, through the intriguing business meeting, to the fun-filled banquet and rump session, QIP 2015 had it all. Parallel sessions or not, you can’t help, but be excited about QIP 2016 already.

Kaushik P. Seshadreesan is a doctoral student in physics at Louisiana State University, working under the supervision of Jonathan P. Dowling and Mark M. Wilde. He will graduate with his PhD in quantum information theory and quantum metrology in May of 2015.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Linear optical quantum metrology with single photons --- Exploiting spontaneously generated entanglement to beat the shotnoise limit


Keith R. Motes, Jonathan P. Olson, Evan J. Rabeaux, Jonathan P. Dowling, S. Jay Olson, Peter P. Rohde

http://arxiv.org/abs/1501.01067



(Submitted on 6 Jan 2015)

Quantum number-path entanglement is a resource for super-sensitive quantum metrology and in particular provides for sub-shotnoise or even Heisenberg-limited sensitivity. However, such number-path entanglement has thought to have been resource intensive to create in the first place --- typically requiring either very strong nonlinearities, or nondeterministic preparation schemes with feed-forward, which are difficult to implement. Very recently, arising from the study of quantum random walks with multi-photon walkers, as well as the study of the computational complexity of passive linear optical interferometers fed with single-photon inputs, it has been shown that such passive linear optical devices generate a superexponentially large amount of number-path entanglement. A logical question to ask is whether this entanglement may be exploited for quantum metrology. We answer that question here in the affirmative by showing that a simple, passive, linear-optical interferometer --- fed with only uncorrelated, single-photon inputs, coupled with simple, single-mode, disjoint photodetection --- is capable of significantly beating the shotnoise limit. Our result implies a pathway forward to practical quantum metrology with readily available technology.