A new performance that explores the world of quantum physics will feature the music of the Jupiter String Quartet, a fire juggler and a fantastical “Alice in Quantumland” scene.
“Quantum Rhapsodies,” the vision of physics professor Smitha Vishveshwara, looks at the foundational developments in quantum physics, the role it plays in our world and in technology such as the MRI, and the quantum mysteries that remain unanswered.
“The quantum world is a world that inspires awe, but it’s also who we are and what we are made of,” said Vishveshwara, who wrote the piece and guided the visuals.
The performance will premiere April 10  as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The event begins with a 5 p.m. reception, followed by the performance at 6 p.m. and a meet-and-greet with the show’s creators at 7 p.m. The performance will be in the atrium of the Beckman Institute, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, [emphases mine] and it is free and open to the public. While the available seating is filling up, the atrium space will allow for an immersive experience in spite of potentially restricted viewing.
The production is a sister piece to “Quantum Voyages,” a performance created in 2018 by Vishveshwara and theatre professor Latrelle Bright to illustrate the basic concepts of quantum physics. It was performed at a quantum physics conference celebrating Nobel Prize-winning physicist Anthony Leggett’s 80th birthday in 2018.
While “Quantum Voyages” was a live theater piece, “Quantum Rhapsodies” combines narration by Bright, video images and live music from the Jupiter String Quartet. It ponders the wonder of the cosmos, the nature of light and matter, and the revolutionary ideas of quantum physics. A central part of the narrative involves the theory of Nobel Prize-winning French physicist Louis de Broglie that matter, like light, can behave as a wave.
The visuals – a blend of still images, video and animation – were created by a team consisting of the Beckman Visualization Laboratory; Steven Drake, a video producer at Beckman; filmmaker Nic Morse of Protagonist Pizza Productions; and members of a class Vishveshwara teaches, Where the Arts Meet Physics.
The biggest challenge in illustrating the ideas in the script was conveying the scope of the piece, from the galactic scale of the cosmos to the subatomic scale of the quantum world, Drake said. The concepts of quantum physics “are not something you can see. It’s theoretical or so small you can’t put it under a microscope or go out into the real world and film it,” he said.
Much of the work involved finding images, both scientific and artistic, that would help illustrate the concepts of the piece and complement the poetic language that Vishveshwara used, as well as the music.
Students and teaching assistant Danielle Markovich from Vishveshwara’s class contributed scientific images and original paintings. Drake used satellite images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites, as well as animation created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in its work with NASA, for portions of the script talking about the cosmos. The Visualization Laboratory provided novel scientific visualizations.
“What we’re good at doing and have done for years is taking research content and theories and visualizing that information. We do that for a very wide variety of research and data. We’re good at coming up with images that represent these invisible worlds, like quantum physics,” said Travis Ross, the director of the lab.
Some ideas required conceptual images, such as footage by Morse of a fire juggler at Allerton Park to represent light and of hands moving to depict the rotational behavior of water-based hydrogen within a person in an MRI machine.
Motion was incorporated into a painting of a lake to show water rippling and light flickering across it to illustrate light waves. In the “Alice in Quantumland” sequence, a Mad Hatter’s tea party filmed at the Illini Union was blended with cartoonlike animated elements into the fantasy sequence by Jose Vazquez, an illustrator and concept artist who works in the Visualization Lab.
“Our main objective is making sure we’re representing it in a believable way that’s also fun and engaging,” Ross said. “We’ve never done anything quite like this. It’s pretty unique.”
In addition to performing the score, members of the Jupiter String Quartet were the musical directors, creating the musical narrative to mesh with the script. The music includes contemplative compositions by Beethoven to evoke the cosmos and playful modern compositions that summon images of the movements of particles and waves.
“I was working with such talented people and creative minds, and we had fun and came up with these seemingly absurd ideas. But then again, it’s like that with the quantum world as well,” Vishveshwara said.
“My hope is not necessarily for people to understand everything, but to infuse curiosity and to feel the grandness and the beauty that is part of who we are and the cosmos that we live in,” she said..
Here’s a preview of this free public performance,
How to look at SciArt (also known as, art/science depending on your religion)
There’s an intriguing April 8, 2019 post on the Science Borealis blog by Katrina Vera Wong and Raymond Nakamura titled: How to look at (and appreciate) SciArt,
The recent #SciArt #TwitterStorm, in which participants tweeted their own sciart and retweeted that of others, illustrated the diversity of approaches to melding art and science. With all this work out there, what can we do, as advocates of art and science, to better appreciate sciart? We’d like to foster interest in, and engagement with, sciart so that its value goes beyond how much it costs or how many likes it gets.
An article by Kit Messham-Muir based on the work of art historian Erwin Panofsky outlines a three-step strategy for looking at art: Look. See. Think. Looking is observing what the elements are. Seeing draws meaning from it. Thinking links personal experience and accessible information to the piece at hand.
Looking and seeing is also part of the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method originally developed for looking at art and subsequently applied to science and other subjects as a social, object-oriented learning process. It begins by asking, “What is going on here?”, followed by “What do you see that makes you think that?” This allows learners of different backgrounds to participate and encourages the pursuit of evidence to back up opinions.
Let’s see how these approaches might work on your own or in conversation. Take, for example, the following work by natural history illustrator Julius Csotonyi:
I hope some of our Vancouver-based (Canada) art critics get a look at some of this material. I read a review a few years ago and the critic seemed intimidated by the idea of looking at work that explicitly integrated and reflected on science. Since that time (Note: there aren’t that many art reviewers here), I have not seen another attempt by an art critic.
Thermodynamics is one of the most human of scientific enterprises, according to Kater Murch, associate professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
“It has to do with our fascination of fire and our laziness,” he said. “How can we get fire” — or heat — “to do work for us?”
Now, Murch and colleagues have taken that most human enterprise down to the intangible quantum scale — that of ultra low temperatures and microscopic systems — and discovered that, as in the macroscopic world, it is possible to use information to extract work.
There is a catch, though: Some information may be lost in the process.
“We’ve experimentally confirmed the connection between information in the classical case and the quantum case,” Murch said, “and we’re seeing this new effect of information loss.”
The international team included Eric Lutz of the University of Stuttgart; J. J. Alonzo of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg; Alessandro Romito of Lancaster University; and Mahdi Naghiloo, a Washington University graduate research assistant in physics.
That we can get energy from information on a macroscopic scale was most famously illustrated in a thought experiment known as Maxwell’s Demon. [emphasis mine] The “demon” presides over a box filled with molecules. The box is divided in half by a wall with a door. If the demon knows the speed and direction of all of the molecules, it can open the door when a fast-moving molecule is moving from the left half of the box to the right side, allowing it to pass. It can do the same for slow particles moving in the opposite direction, opening the door when a slow-moving molecule is approaching from the right, headed left.
After a while, all of the quickly-moving molecules are on the right side of the box. Faster motion corresponds to higher temperature. In this way, the demon has created a temperature imbalance, where one side of the box is hotter. That temperature imbalance can be turned into work — to push on a piston as in a steam engine, for instance. At first the thought experiment seemed to show that it was possible create a temperature difference without doing any work, and since temperature differences allow you to extract work, one could build a perpetual motion machine — a violation of the second law of thermodynamics.
“Eventually, scientists realized that there’s something about the information that the demon has about the molecules,” Murch said. “It has a physical quality like heat and work and energy.”
His team wanted to know if it would be possible to use information to extract work in this way on a quantum scale, too, but not by sorting fast and slow molecules. If a particle is in an excited state, they could extract work by moving it to a ground state. (If it was in a ground state, they wouldn’t do anything and wouldn’t expend any work).
But they wanted to know what would happen if the quantum particles were in an excited state and a ground state at the same time, analogous to being fast and slow at the same time. In quantum physics, this is known as a superposition.
“Can you get work from information about a superposition of energy states?” Murch asked. “That’s what we wanted to find out.”
There’s a problem, though. On a quantum scale, getting information about particles can be a bit … tricky.
“Every time you measure the system, it changes that system,” Murch said. And if they measured the particle to find out exactly what state it was in, it would revert to one of two states: excited, or ground.
This effect is called quantum backaction. To get around it, when looking at the system, researchers (who were the “demons”) didn’t take a long, hard look at their particle. Instead, they took what was called a “weak observation.” It still influenced the state of the superposition, but not enough to move it all the way to an excited state or a ground state; it was still in a superposition of energy states. This observation was enough, though, to allow the researchers track with fairly high accuracy, exactly what superposition the particle was in — and this is important, because the way the work is extracted from the particle depends on what superposition state it is in.
To get information, even using the weak observation method, the researchers still had to take a peek at the particle, which meant they needed light. So they sent some photons in, and observed the photons that came back.
“But the demon misses some photons,” Murch said. “It only gets about half. The other half are lost.” But — and this is the key — even though the researchers didn’t see the other half of the photons, those photons still interacted with the system, which means they still had an effect on it. The researchers had no way of knowing what that effect was.
They took a weak measurement and got some information, but because of quantum backaction, they might end up knowing less than they did before the measurement. On the balance, that’s negative information.
And that’s weird.
“Do the rules of thermodynamics for a macroscopic, classical world still apply when we talk about quantum superposition?” Murch asked. “We found that yes, they hold, except there’s this weird thing. The information can be negative.
“I think this research highlights how difficult it is to build a quantum computer,” Murch said.
“For a normal computer, it just gets hot and we need to cool it. In the quantum computer you are always at risk of losing information.”
A US-France-Germany collaboration has led to some intriguing work with carbon nanotubes. From a June 18, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,
Researchers at Los Alamos and partners in France and Germany are exploring the enhanced potential of carbon nanotubes as single-photon emitters for quantum information processing. Their analysis of progress in the field is published in this week’s edition of the journal Nature Materials.
“We are particularly interested in advances in nanotube integration into photonic cavities for manipulating and optimizing light-emission properties,” said Stephen Doorn, one of the authors, and a scientist with the Los Alamos National Laboratory site of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT). “In addition, nanotubes integrated into electroluminescent devices can provide greater control over timing of light emission and they can be feasibly integrated into photonic structures. We are highlighting the development and photophysical probing of carbon nanotube defect states as routes to room-temperature single photon emitters at telecom wavelengths.”
The team’s overview was produced in collaboration with colleagues in Paris (Christophe Voisin [Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (ENS)]) who are advancing the integration of nanotubes into photonic cavities for modifying their emission rates, and at Karlsruhe (Ralph Krupke [Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT]) where they are integrating nanotube-based electroluminescent devices with photonic waveguide structures. The Los Alamos focus is the analysis of nanotube defects for pushing quantum emission to room temperature and telecom wavelengths, he said.
As the paper notes, “With the advent of high-speed information networks, light has become the main worldwide information carrier. . . . Single-photon sources are a key building block for a variety of technologies, in secure quantum communications metrology or quantum computing schemes.”
The use of single-walled carbon nanotubes in this area has been a focus for the Los Alamos CINT team, where they developed the ability to chemically modify the nanotube structure to create deliberate defects, localizing excitons and controlling their release. Next steps, Doorn notes, involve integration of the nanotubes into photonic resonators, to provide increased source brightness and to generate indistinguishable photons. “We need to create single photons that are indistinguishable from one another, and that relies on our ability to functionalize tubes that are well-suited for device integration and to minimize environmental interactions with the defect sites,” he said.
“In addition to defining the state of the art, we wanted to highlight where the challenges are for future progress and lay out some of what may be the most promising future directions for moving forward in this area. Ultimately, we hope to draw more researchers into this field,” Doorn said.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Carbon nanotubes as emerging quantum-light sources by X. He, H. Htoon, S. K. Doorn, W. H. P. Pernice, F. Pyatkov, R. Krupke, A. Jeantet, Y. Chassagneux & C. Voisin. Nature Materials (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-018-0109-2 Published online June 18, 2018
It seems sound is becoming more prominent as a means of science data communication (data sonification) and in this upcoming case, data transfer. From a June 5, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,
Quantum physics is on the brink of a technological breakthrough: new types of sensors, secure data transmission methods and maybe even computers could be made possible thanks to quantum technologies. However, the main obstacle here is finding the right way to couple and precisely control a sufficient number of quantum systems (for example, individual atoms).
A team of researchers from TU Wien and Harvard University has found a new way to transfer the necessary quantum information. They propose using tiny mechanical vibrations. The atoms are coupled with each other by ‘phonons’ — the smallest quantum mechanical units of vibrations or sound waves.
“We are testing tiny diamonds with built-in silicon atoms – these quantum systems are particularly promising,” says Professor Peter Rabl from TU Wien. “Normally, diamonds are made exclusively of carbon, but adding silicon atoms in certain places creates defects in the crystal lattice where quantum information can be stored.” These microscopic flaws in the crystal lattice can be used like a tiny switch that can be switched between a state of higher energy and a state of lower energy using microwaves.
Together with a team from Harvard University, Peter Rabl’s research group has developed a new idea to achieve the targeted coupling of these quantum memories within the diamond. One by one they can be built into a tiny diamond rod measuring only a few micrometres in length, like individual pearls on a necklace. Just like a tuning fork, this rod can then be made to vibrate – however, these vibrations are so small that they can only be described using quantum theory. It is through these vibrations that the silicon atoms can form a quantum-mechanical link to each other.
“Light is made from photons, the quantum of light. In the same way, mechanical vibrations or sound waves can also be described in a quantum-mechanical manner. They are comprised of phonons – the smallest possible units of mechanical vibration,” explains Peter Rabl. As the research team has now been able to show using simulation calculations, any number of these quantum memories can be linked together in the diamond rod thanks to these phonons. The individual silicon atoms are “switched on and off” using microwaves. During this process, they emit or absorb phonons. This creates a quantum entanglement of different silicon defects, thus allowing quantum information to be transferred.
The road to a scalable quantum network
Until now it was not clear whether something like this was even possible: “Usually you would expect the phonons to be absorbed somewhere, or to come into contact with the environment and thus lose their quantum mechanical properties,” says Peter Rabl. “Phonons are the enemy of quantum information, so to speak. But with our calculations, we were able to show that, when controlled appropriately using microwaves, the phonons are in fact useable for technical applications.”
The main advantage of this new technology lies in its scalability: “There are many ideas for quantum systems that, in principle, can be used for technological applications. The biggest problem is that it is very difficult to connect enough of them to be able to carry out complicated computing operations,” says Peter Rabl. The new strategy of using phonons for this purpose could pave the way to a scalable quantum technology.
Compared to five or more years ago, there’s a lollapalooza of art/sci (or sciart) events coming up in September 2018. Of course, it’s helpful if you live in or are visiting Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary at the right time. All of these events occur from mid September (roughly) to the end of September. In no particular date order:
“The Sense of Beauty: Art and Science at CERN” (2017) by Valerio Jalongo
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2018 at 6:30 pm
The CINEMATHEQUE – 1131 Howe Street, Vancouver
Duration of film: 75’. Director in attendance; Q&A with the film director to follow the screening
Director Jalongo will discuss the making of his documentary in a seminar open to the public on September 24 (1:00-2:30 pm) at UBC [University of British Columbia] (Buchanan Penthouse, *1866 Main Maill, Block C, 5th floor*, Vancouver).
The Sense of Beauty is the story of an unprecedented experiment that involves scientists from throughout the world collaborating around the largest machine ever constructed by human beings: the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). As the new experiment at CERN proceeds in its exploration of the mysterious energy that animates the universe, scientists and artists guide us towards the shadow line where science and art, in different ways, pursue truth and beauty.
Some of these men and women believe in God, while others believe only in experiment and doubt. But in their search for truth they are all alert to an elusive sixth – or seventh – sense: the sense of beauty. An unmissable opportunity for lovers of science, of beauty, or of both.
Rome-born Valerio Jalongo is a teacher, screenwriter and director who works in cinema and TV, for which he created works of fiction and award-winning documentaries. Among them: Sulla mia pelle (On My Skin, 2003) and La scuola è finita (2010), starring Valeria Golino, on the difficulties facing public schools in Italy.
This event is presented by the Dante Alighieri Society of BC in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver and in association with ARPICO (www.arpico.ca), the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada.
I searched for more information both about the film and about the seminar at UBC. I had no luck with the UBC seminar but I did find more about the film. There’s an April (?) 2017 synopsis by Luciano Barisone on the Vision du Réel website,
From one cave to another. In prehistoric times, human beings would leave paintings in caves to show their amazement and admiration for the complexity of the world. These reproductions of natural forms were the results of an act of creation and also of mystical gestures which appropriated the soul of things. In another gigantic and modern den, the immense CERN laboratory, the same thing is happening today, a combination of enthralled exploration of the cosmos and an attempt to control it. Valerio Jalongo’s film tackles the big questions that have fascinated poets, artists and philosophers since the dawn of time. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? The scientists at CERN attempt to answer them through machines that explore matter and search for the origins of life. In their conversations or their words to camera, the meaning of existence thus seems to become a pure question of the laws of physics and mathematical formulae. If only for solving the mystery of the universe a sixth sense is necessary. That of beauty…
There’s also a February 5, 2018 essay by Stefano Caggiano for Interni, which uses a description of the film to launch into a paean to Italian design,
The success of the documentary The Sense of Beauty by Valerio Jalongo, which narrates the ‘aesthetic’ side of the physicists at CERN when faced with the fundamental laws of nature, proves that the yearning for beauty is not just an aspect of art, but something shared by all human efforts to interpret reality.
It is no coincidence that the scientists themselves define the LHC particle accelerator (27 km) as a grand machine for beauty, conceived to investigate the meaning of things, not to perform some practical function. In fact, just as matter can be perceived only through form, and form only if supported by matter (Aristotle already understood this), so the laws of physics can be glimpsed only when they are applied to reality.
This is why in the Large Hadron Collider particles are accelerated to speeds close to that of light, reconstructing the matter-energy conditions just a few instants after the Big Bang. Only in this way is it possible to glimpse the hidden fundamental laws of the universe. It is precisely this evanescence that constitutes ‘beauty.’
The quivering of the form that reveals itself in the matter that conceals it, and which – given the fact that everything originates in the Big Bang – is found everywhere, in the most faraway stars and the closest objects: you just have to know how to prove it, grasp it, how to wait. Because this is the only way to establish relations with beauty: not perceiving it but awaiting it. Respecting its way of offering itself, which consists in denying itself.
Charging the form of an object with this sensation of awaiting, then, means catalyzing the ultimate and primary sense of beauty. And it is what is held in common by the work of the five Italian designers nominated for the Rising Talent Awards of Maison & Object 2018 (with Kensaku Oshiro as the only non-Italian designer, though he does live and work in Milan).
There’s a trailer (published by CERN on November 7, 2017,
It’s in both Italian and English with subtitles throughout, should you need them.
*The address for the Buchanan Penthouse was corrected from: 2329 West Mall to 1866 Main Maill, Block C, 5th floor on Sept. 17, 2018.
Toronto’s ArtSci Salon at Nuit Blanche, Mycology, Wild Bees and Art+Tech!
From a Tuesday, September 11, 2018 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email),
Baba Yaga Collective and ArtSci Salon Present: Chaos Fungorum
In 1747, Carl Linnaeus, known as the “father of taxonomy”, observed
that the seeds of fungus moved in water like fish until “..by a law of
nature thus far unheard of and surpassing all human understanding..,”
they changed back to plant in their adult life.
He proceeded to include fungi in the new genus of “Chaos”. But why
delimiting fungi within categories and boundaries when it is exactly
their fluidity that make them so interesting?
Chaos Fungorum draws on the particular position occupied by fungi and
other hybrid organisms: neither plant nor animal, fungi extend across,
and can entertain, communications and collaborations between animal,
human and industrial realms.
Mixing different artistic practices and media, the artists featured in
this exhibition seek to move beyond rigid comprehensions of the living
by working with, rather than merely shaping, sculpting and manipulating
plants, microorganisms and fungi. Letting the non-human speak is to move
away from an anthropocentric approach to the world: it not only opens to
new rewarding artistic practices, but it also fosters new ideas of
sustainable coexistence, new unusual life collaborations and
adaptations, and new forms of communications and languages.
September 26 – October 7, 2018
Baba Yaga Collective 906 Queen Street West @Crawford, Toronto
All the Buzz on Wild Bee Club!
Summer Speaker Series
Wed Sept 19 at 7pm
High Park Nature Centre,
All the Buzz on Wild Bee Club! – Summer Speaker Series
The speaker series will feature the club’s biologist/leader SUSAN FRYE.
A major component of this club will use the SONIC SOLITARIES AUDIO BEE
CABINET – an observable nest site for bees in OURSpace – to encompass a
sensory experience with stem nesting bees and wasps, and to record
weekly activity at the cabinet. Pairing magnified views in tandem with
amplified sound via headphones, the cabinet facilitates an enhanced
perception of its tiny inhabitants: solitary bees and wasps and other
nest biota in action, up close. As citizen scientists, we can gather and
record observations to compile them into a database that will contribute
to our growing understanding of native bees, the native (and non-native)
plants they use for food and nest material sources, their co-evolution,
and how pollination in a park and restored habitat setting is
facilitated by native bees.
Fri, Sept 21, 8pm
Music Gallery, 918 Bathurst (their new location) – Trio Wow & Flutter
with Bea Labikova, fujara, saxophones,
Kayla Milmine-Abbott, soprano saxophone,
Sarah Peebles, shō, cracklebox, amplifiers.
Call for Participants: Art+Tech Jam
ChangeUp’s Art+Tech Jam
This three days event will unite a diverse group of artists and
technologists in an intensive, collaborative three-day creation period
and culminating showcase (public exhibition and interdisciplinary rave).
ChangeUo is currently accepting applicants from tech and arts/culture
spaces of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels.
Limited spots available.
For more information and to apply https://tinyurl.com/changeup-artsorg
I looked up Nanotopia and found it on SoundCloud. Happy listening!
Et Al III (the ultimate science bar night in Vancouver) and more
A September 12, 2018 Curiosity Collider announcement (received via email) reveals details about the latest cooperative event/bar night put on by three sciencish groups,
Curiosity Collider is bringing art + science to Vancouver’s Ultimate Bar Science Night with Nerd Nite & Science Slam
Do you enjoy learning about science in a casual environment? This is the third year that Curiosity Collider is part of Et al, the Ultimate Bar Science Night where we bring together awesome speakers and activities. Come and enjoy Curiosity Collider’s segment on quantum physics with Spoken Word Poet Angelica Poversky, Physicist James Day, and CC’s own Creative Director Char Hoyt.
When: Drinks and mingling start at 6:30pm. Presentations start at 7:30pm. Where:Rio Theatre, 1660 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5N 1W1 Cost:$15-20 via Eventbrite and at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future science bar events.
Special Guest talk by Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist with a Twist!
Dr. Carin Bondar is a biologist, author and philosopher. Bondar is author of the books Wild Sex and Wild Moms (Pegasus). She is the writer and host of an online series based on her books which have garnered over 100,000,000 views. Her TED talk on the subject has nearly 3 million views. She is host of several TV series including Worlds Oddest Animal Couples (Animal Planet, Netflix), Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World (Discovery World HD, National Geographic) and Outrageous Acts of Science (The Science Channel). Bondar is an adventurer and explorer, having discovered 11 new species of beetles and snails in the remote jungles of Borneo. Bondar is also a mom of 4 kids, two boys and two girls.
Vancouver Biennale is hosting Patricia Piccinini’s CURIOUS IMAGININGS at the Patricia Hotel. The exhibition will “challenge us to explore the social impacts of emerging biotechnology and our ethical limits in an age where genetic engineering and digital technologies are already pushing the boundaries of humanity.” Purchase tickets online.
Devoted readers 🙂 will note that the Vancouver Biennale’s Curious Imaginings show was featured here in a June 18, 2018 post and mentioned more recently in the context of a September 11, 2018 post on xenotransplantation.
Et Al III: The Ultimate Bar Science Night Curiosity Collider + Nerd Nite Vancouver + Science Slam Canada
POSTER BY: Armin Mortazavi IG:@Armin.Scientoonist
Et Al III: The Ultimate Bar Science Night
Curiosity Collider + Nerd Nite Vancouver + Science Slam Canada
Special Guest talk by Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist with a Twist!
6:30pm – Doors open
6:30-7:30 Drinks, Socializing, Nerding
7:30pm-945pm Stage Show with two intermissions
You like science? You like drinking while sciencing? In Vancouver there are many options to get educated and inspired through science, art, and culture in a casual bar setting outside of universities. There’s Nerd Nite which focuses on nerdy lectures in the Fox Cabaret, Curiosity Collider which creates events that bring together artists and scientists, and Science Slam, a poetry-slam inspired science communication competition!
In this third installment of Et Al, we’re making the show bigger than ever. We want people to know all about the bar science nights in Vancouver, but we also want to connect all you nerds together as we build this community. We encourage you to COME DRESSED AS YOUR FAVOURITE SCIENTIST. We will give away prizes to the best costumes, plus it’s a great ice breaker. We’re also encouraging science based organizations to get involved in the show by promoting your institution. Contact Kaylee or Michael at email@example.com if your science organization would like to contribute to the show with some giveaways, you will get a free ticket, if you don’t have anything to give away, contact us anyway, we want this to be a celebration of science nights in Vancouver!
Dr. Carin Bondar is a biologist, author and philosopher. Bondar is author of the books Wild Sex and Wild Moms (Pegasus). She is writer and host of online series based on her books (Wild Sex and Wild Moms) which have garnered over 100,000,000 views. Her TED talk on the subject has nearly 3 million views. She is host of several TV series including Worlds Oddest Animal Couples (Animal Planet, Netflix), Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World (Discovery World HD, National Geographic) and Outrageous Acts of Science (The Science Channel). Bondar is an adventurer and explorer, having discovered 11 new species of beetles and snails in the remote jungles of Borneo. Bondar is also a mom of 4 kids, two boys and two girls.
Curiosity Collider Art Science Foundation promotes interdisciplinary collaborations that capture natural human curiosity. At the intersection of art, culture, technology, and humanity are innovative ways to communicate the daily relevance of science. Though exhibitions, performance events and our quarterly speaker event, the Collider Cafe we help create new ways to experience science.
In our opinion, there has never been a better time to be a Nerd! Nerd Nite is an event which is currently held in over 60 cities worldwide! The formula for each Nerd Nite is pretty standard – 20 minute presentations from three presenters each night, in a laid-back environment with lots to learn, and lots to drink!
Science Slam YVR is a community outreach organization committed to supporting and promoting science communication in Vancouver. Our Science Slams are informal competitions that bring together researchers, students, educators, and communicators to share interesting science in creative ways. Every event is different, with talks, poems, songs, dances, and unexpected surprises. Our only two rules? Each slammer has 5 minutes, and no slideshows are allowed! Slammers come to share their science, and the judges and audience decide their fate. Who will take away the title of Science Slam champion?
An art, science, and engineering festival in Calgary, Alberta, Beakerhead opens on September 19, 2018 and runs until September 23, 2018. Here’s more from the 2018 online programme announcement made in late July (?) 2018,
Giant Dung Beetle, Zorb Ball Racers, Heart Powered Art and More Set to Explode on Calgary Streets!
Quirky, fun adventures result when art, science and engineering collide at Beakerhead September 19 – 23, 2018.
In just seven weeks, enormous electric bolts will light up the sky in downtown Calgary when a crazy cacophony of exhibits and events takes over the city. The Beakerhead crew is announcing the official program lineup with tickets now available online for all ticketed events. This year’s extravaganza will include remarkable spectacles of art and science, unique activities, and more than 50 distinct events – many of which are free, but still require registration to get tickets.
The Calgary-born smash up of art, science and engineering is in its sixth year. Last year, more than 145,000 people participated in Beakerhead and organizers are planning to top that number in 2018.
“Expect conversations that start with “wow!” says Mary Anne Moser, President and Co-founder of Beakerhead. “This year’s lineup includes a lot of original concepts, special culinary events, dozens of workshops, shows and and tours.”
Beakerhead events take place indoors and out. Beakernight is science’s biggest ticketed street party and tickets are now on sale.
Highlights of Beakerhead 2018:
Light up the Night: Giant electric bolts will light up the night sky thanks to two 10-metre Tesla Coils built by a team of artists and engineers.
Lunch Without Light: This special Dark Table dining experience is led by a famous broadcaster and an esteemed neuroscientist.
Beakereats and Beakerbar: Dining is a whole new experience when chef and bartender become scientist! Creative Calgary chefs and mixologists experiment with a new theme in 2018: canola.
Four to Six on Fourth: Blocks of open-air experimentation including a human-sized hamster wheel, artists, performers, and hands-on or feet-on experiences like walking on liquid.
Beacons: This series of free neighbourhood installations is completely wild! There’s everything from a giant dung beetle to a 3.5 metre lotus that lights up with your heart beat.
Workshops: Learn the art of animation, understand cryptocurrency, meet famous scientists and broadcasters, make organic facial oil or a vegan carrot cake and much more.
Zorbathon: Get inside a zorb and cavort with family and friends in an oversized playground. Participate in rolling races, bump-a-thons, obstacle courses. Make a day of it.
Beakerhead takes place September 19 – 23, 2018 with the ticketed Beakernight on Saturday, September 22 at Fort Calgary.
Here’s a special shout out to Shaskatchewan`s Jean-Sébastien Gauthier and Brian F. Eames (featured here in a February 16, 2018 posting) and their free ‘Within Measure’ Sept. 19 – 23, 2018 event at Beakerhead.
A June 26, 2018 HR MacMillan Space Centre (HRMSC) press release, received via email, announces an upcoming art/sci event,
This July the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Voirelia: Dance, Psychology and Philosophy Hub will be co-hosting Quantum Inkblot, an interactive evening exploring quantum physics through the lenses of physics and psychology, art, and astronomy. The evening will incorporate talks by a physicist and a psychologist, visual artwork, and original contemporary dance performances.
The talks and artistic works will explore some of the questions about how psychology and physics can mirror, inspire, and influence one another. We will touch on topics related to relativity, uncertainty, and predictability of this world.
A dialogue-style talk will be led by physicist Dr. Jaymie Matthews and psychologist Dr. Alina Sotskova exploring the intersections of quantum physics and psychology. Dr. Matthews will be discussing the concept of wave-particle duality and the way it takes the assumption that one thing cannot be in two places at once and turns it on its head.
Dr. Sotskova will be talking about the dissonance in predicting the behaviour of groups vs. predicting the behaviour of individuals, giving pause to reflect on the existence of order at a macro level and chaos at the micro level.
The evening will also feature three original contemporary dance performances and a visual art and music presentation that were all inspired by themes in psychology and the intersection with physics.
There will be time between performances to enjoy a drink, take part in interactive art activities, watch physics demonstrations, and chat with physicists, artists, and psychologists. The evening will end with a question and answer period with all of the performers and speakers.
Here are logistics and additional details,
Quantum Inkblot will take place at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre Thursday, July 12th.
This is a 19+ event.
6:30pm doors open, 7:00pm show starts in the Planetarium Star Theatre
$25 for tickets
Tickets available online through Eventbrite,[clicking on this link will give you a map to the location] in person, or by phone at 604.738.7827.
Find the Quantum Inkblot event on Facebook for sneak peeks at the art work being created, learn more about the process of collaboration between artists and scientists, and more!
The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is a non-profit community resource that brings the wonders of space to Earth, while providing a personal sense of ongoing discovery. Through innovative programming, exhibits and activities, our goal is to inspire sustained interest in the fields of Earth science, space science and astronomy from a Canadian perspective.
Voirelia is a Vancouver-based Dance, Psychology, and Philosophy Hub. Its main purpose is to create original dance and art works inspired by ideas in psychology and philosophy. Voirelia also organizes talks, workshops, and events relevant to the intersection between dance, psychology, & philosophy, such as talks on philosophy of science. Our aim is “movement with meaning.”
BC Psychological Association has provided support for this event and BCPA representatives will be available to chat with the guests.
There will be several dance works presented during Quantum Inkblot. Here are the latest shots from one of the rehearsals, with physicists Dr. Jaymie Matthews and Dr. Ewan Hill joining us for a transdisciplinary open-rehearsal style session.
Photographs: Jason Kirkness. Dancers: Sophie Brassard, Michael Demski. Rehearsal direction/choreography: Alina Sotskova. [Not all the images have been included in this excerpt.]
We wanted to document our artistic and creative process as we put together this unique event. Below you will see examples of original art works and how artistic creation progresses. In the dance photographs below (by Jason Kirkness), we had a brainstorming session that included people with backgrounds in physics, psychology, dance, and theater. We spent about an hour talking about concepts from quantum physics that people often find “weird” – such as the concepts of waves, particles, wave-particle duality, and the uncertainty principle. We touched on how quantum physics influences our perception of science, the world, and ourselves. We discussed topics of identity and searching for meaning and why the quantum world is so different from what we see with our senses. Then we took our brainstorming to the dance studio. Here, using prompts suggested by physicists and her own knowledge as a psychologist and dancer, Alina Sotskova facilitated improvisational movement exploration. This yielded a great deal [sic] of ideas about parallels between physics and psychology, and we will use these ideas a spring board as we begin to develop specific dance works for the event. You can also check out short videos of the improvisational movement research session on our Facebook page, in the Videos section. [Not all the images have been included in this excerpt.]
The team who was part of the brainstorming session […] included: Andrew Elias (Graduate Student working in the field of quantum physics, UBC); Jason Kirkness (Co-lead for the Quantum Inkblot Event and; background: physics and computer science); Alina Sotskova (Co-lead for the Quantum Inkblot Event and; background: psychology and dance). Our dancers were: Angelo Moroni, Michael Demski, Carolyn Schmidt, Alejandra Miranda Caballero, Alina Sotskova.
The images below are samples of original art works by Andrew Short, one of Voirelia’s Core Consultants. Inspired by topics in quantum physics, psychology, and cosmology, Andrew is working on preparing a very special presentation especially for Quantum Inkblot. [There are more images at Voirelia.]
Interestingly, this does not seem to be a ‘sister’ event to Toronto’s ‘Out Of This World; Art inspired by all things astronomical’ exhibition and talks being held July 4 – 22, 2018 in honour of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s (RASC) sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). There’s more about Toronto’s astronomical art/science event in my July 2, 2018 posting.
One of the winners in Canada’s 2017 federal budget announcement of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy was Edmonton, Alberta. It’s a fact which sometimes goes unnoticed while Canadians marvel at the wonderfulness found in Toronto and Montréal where it seems new initiatives and monies are being announced on a weekly basis (I exaggerate) for their AI (artificial intelligence) efforts.
Intriguingly, it seems that Edmonton has higher aims than (an almost unnoticed) leadership in AI. Physicists at the University of Alberta have announced hopes to be just as successful as their AI brethren in a Nov. 27, 2017 article by Juris Graney for the Edmonton Journal,
Physicists at the University of Alberta [U of A] are hoping to emulate the success of their artificial intelligence studying counterparts in establishing the city and the province as the nucleus of quantum nanotechnology research in Canada and North America.
Google’s artificial intelligence research division DeepMind announced in July  it had chosen Edmonton as its first international AI research lab, based on a long-running partnership with the U of A’s 10-person AI lab.
Retaining the brightest minds in the AI and machine-learning fields while enticing a global tech leader to Alberta was heralded as a coup for the province and the university.
It is something U of A physics professor John Davis believes the university’s new graduate program, Quanta, can help achieve in the world of quantum nanotechnology.
The field of quantum mechanics had long been a realm of theoretical science based on the theory that atomic and subatomic material like photons or electrons behave both as particles and waves.
“When you get right down to it, everything has both behaviours (particle and wave) and we can pick and choose certain scenarios which one of those properties we want to use,” he said.
But, Davis said, physicists and scientists are “now at the point where we understand quantum physics and are developing quantum technology to take to the marketplace.”
“Quantum computing used to be realm of science fiction, but now we’ve figured it out, it’s now a matter of engineering,” he said.
Quantum computing labs are being bought by large tech companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft because they realize they are only a few years away from having this power, he said.
Those making the groundbreaking developments may want to commercialize their finds and take the technology to market and that is where Quanta comes in.
East vs. West—Again?
Ivan Semeniuk in his article, Quantum Supremacy, ignores any quantum research effort not located in either Waterloo, Ontario or metro Vancouver, British Columbia to describe a struggle between the East and the West (a standard Canadian trope). From Semeniuk’s Oct. 17, 2017 quantum article [link follows the excerpts] for the Globe and Mail’s October 2017 issue of the Report on Business (ROB),
Lazaridis [Mike], of course, has experienced lost advantage first-hand. As co-founder and former co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM, now called Blackberry), he made the smartphone an indispensable feature of the modern world, only to watch rivals such as Apple and Samsung wrest away Blackberry’s dominance. Now, at 56, he is engaged in a high-stakes race that will determine who will lead the next technology revolution. In the rolling heartland of southwestern Ontario, he is laying the foundation for what he envisions as a new Silicon Valley—a commercial hub based on the promise of quantum technology.
Semeniuk skips over the story of how Blackberry lost its advantage. I came onto that story late in the game when Blackberry was already in serious trouble due to a failure to recognize that the field they helped to create was moving in a new direction. If memory serves, they were trying to keep their technology wholly proprietary which meant that developers couldn’t easily create apps to extend the phone’s features. Blackberry also fought a legal battle in the US with a patent troll draining company resources and energy in proved to be a futile effort.
Since then Lazaridis has invested heavily in quantum research. He gave the University of Waterloo a serious chunk of money as they named their Quantum Nano Centre (QNC) after him and his wife, Ophelia (you can read all about it in my Sept. 25, 2012 posting about the then new centre). The best details for Lazaridis’ investments in Canada’s quantum technology are to be found on the Quantum Valley Investments, About QVI, History webpage,
History has repeatedly demonstrated the power of research in physics to transform society. As a student of history and a believer in the power of physics, Mike Lazaridis set out in 2000 to make real his bold vision to establish the Region of Waterloo as a world leading centre for physics research. That is, a place where the best researchers in the world would come to do cutting-edge research and to collaborate with each other and in so doing, achieve transformative discoveries that would lead to the commercialization of breakthrough technologies.
Establishing a World Class Centre in Quantum Research:
The first step in this regard was the establishment of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Perimeter was established in 2000 as an independent theoretical physics research institute. Mike started Perimeter with an initial pledge of $100 million (which at the time was approximately one third of his net worth). Since that time, Mike and his family have donated a total of more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute. In addition to this unprecedented monetary support, Mike also devotes his time and influence to help lead and support the organization in everything from the raising of funds with government and private donors to helping to attract the top researchers from around the globe to it. Mike’s efforts helped Perimeter achieve and grow its position as one of a handful of leading centres globally for theoretical research in fundamental physics.
Perimeter is located in a Governor-General award winning designed building in Waterloo. Success in recruiting and resulting space requirements led to an expansion of the Perimeter facility. A uniquely designed addition, which has been described as space-ship-like, was opened in 2011 as the Stephen Hawking Centre in recognition of one of the most famous physicists alive today who holds the position of Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at Perimeter and is a strong friend and supporter of the organization.
Recognizing the need for collaboration between theorists and experimentalists, in 2002, Mike applied his passion and his financial resources toward the establishment of The Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. IQC was established as an experimental research institute focusing on quantum information. Mike established IQC with an initial donation of $33.3 million. Since that time, Mike and his family have donated a total of more than $120 million to the University of Waterloo for IQC and other related science initiatives. As in the case of the Perimeter Institute, Mike devotes considerable time and influence to help lead and support IQC in fundraising and recruiting efforts. Mike’s efforts have helped IQC become one of the top experimental physics research institutes in the world.
Mike and Doug Fregin have been close friends since grade 5. They are also co-founders of BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion Limited). Doug shares Mike’s passion for physics and supported Mike’s efforts at the Perimeter Institute with an initial gift of $10 million. Since that time Doug has donated a total of $30 million to Perimeter Institute. Separately, Doug helped establish the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo with total gifts for $29 million. As suggested by its name, WIN is devoted to research in the area of nanotechnology. It has established as an area of primary focus the intersection of nanotechnology and quantum physics.
With a donation of $50 million from Mike which was matched by both the Government of Canada and the province of Ontario as well as a donation of $10 million from Doug, the University of Waterloo built the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, a state of the art laboratory located on the main campus of the University of Waterloo that rivals the best facilities in the world. QNC was opened in September 2012 and houses researchers from both IQC and WIN.
Leading the Establishment of Commercialization Culture for Quantum Technologies in Canada:
For many years, theorists have been able to demonstrate the transformative powers of quantum mechanics on paper. That said, converting these theories to experimentally demonstrable discoveries has, putting it mildly, been a challenge. Many naysayers have suggested that achieving these discoveries was not possible and even the believers suggested that it could likely take decades to achieve these discoveries. Recently, a buzz has been developing globally as experimentalists have been able to achieve demonstrable success with respect to Quantum Information based discoveries. Local experimentalists are very much playing a leading role in this regard. It is believed by many that breakthrough discoveries that will lead to commercialization opportunities may be achieved in the next few years and certainly within the next decade.
Recognizing the unique challenges for the commercialization of quantum technologies (including risk associated with uncertainty of success, complexity of the underlying science and high capital / equipment costs) Mike and Doug have chosen to once again lead by example. The Quantum Valley Investment Fund will provide commercialization funding, expertise and support for researchers that develop breakthroughs in Quantum Information Science that can reasonably lead to new commercializable technologies and applications. Their goal in establishing this Fund is to lead in the development of a commercialization infrastructure and culture for Quantum discoveries in Canada and thereby enable such discoveries to remain here.
Semeniuk goes on to set the stage for Waterloo/Lazaridis vs. Vancouver (from Semeniuk’s 2017 ROB article),
… as happened with Blackberry, the world is once again catching up. While Canada’s funding of quantum technology ranks among the top five in the world, the European Union, China, and the US are all accelerating their investments in the field. Tech giants such as Google [also known as Alphabet], Microsoft and IBM are ramping up programs to develop companies and other technologies based on quantum principles. Meanwhile, even as Lazaridis works to establish Waterloo as the country’s quantum hub, a Vancouver-area company has emerged to challenge that claim. The two camps—one methodically focused on the long game, the other keen to stake an early commercial lead—have sparked an East-West rivalry that many observers of the Canadian quantum scene are at a loss to explain.
Is it possible that some of the rivalry might be due to an influential individual who has invested heavily in a ‘quantum valley’ and has a history of trying to ‘own’ a technology?
Getting back to D-Wave Systems, the Vancouver company, I have written about them a number of times (particularly in 2015; for the full list: input D-Wave into the blog search engine). This June 26, 2015 posting includes a reference to an article in The Economist magazine about D-Wave’s commercial opportunities while the bulk of the posting is focused on a technical breakthrough.
Semeniuk offers an overview of the D-Wave Systems story,
D-Wave was born in 1999, the same year Lazaridis began to fund quantum science in Waterloo. From the start, D-Wave had a more immediate goal: to develop a new computer technology to bring to market. “We didn’t have money or facilities,” says Geordie Rose, a physics PhD who co0founded the company and served in various executive roles. …
The group soon concluded that the kind of machine most scientists were pursing based on so-called gate-model architecture was decades away from being realized—if ever. …
Instead, D-Wave pursued another idea, based on a principle dubbed “quantum annealing.” This approach seemed more likely to produce a working system, even if the application that would run on it were more limited. “The only thing we cared about was building the machine,” says Rose. “Nobody else was trying to solve the same problem.”
D-Wave debuted its first prototype at an event in California in February 2007 running it through a few basic problems such as solving a Sudoku puzzle and finding the optimal seating plan for a wedding reception. … “They just assumed we were hucksters,” says Hilton [Jeremy Hilton, D.Wave senior vice-president of systems]. Federico Spedalieri, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California’s [USC} Information Sciences Institute who has worked with D-Wave’s system, says the limited information the company provided about the machine’s operation provoked outright hostility. “I think that played against them a lot in the following years,” he says.
It seems Lazaridis is not the only one who likes to hold company information tightly.
Back to Semeniuk and D-Wave,
Today [October 2017], the Los Alamos National Laboratory owns a D-Wave machine, which costs about $15million. Others pay to access D-Wave systems remotely. This year , for example, Volkswagen fed data from thousands of Beijing taxis into a machine located in Burnaby [one of the municipalities that make up metro Vancouver] to study ways to optimize traffic flow.
But the application for which D-Wave has the hights hope is artificial intelligence. Any AI program hings on the on the “training” through which a computer acquires automated competence, and the 2000Q [a D-Wave computer] appears well suited to this task. …
Yet, for all the buzz D-Wave has generated, with several research teams outside Canada investigating its quantum annealing approach, the company has elicited little interest from the Waterloo hub. As a result, what might seem like a natural development—the Institute for Quantum Computing acquiring access to a D-Wave machine to explore and potentially improve its value—has not occurred. …
I am particularly interested in this comment as it concerns public funding (from Semeniuk’s article),
Vern Brownell, a former Goldman Sachs executive who became CEO of D-Wave in 2009, calls the lack of collaboration with Waterloo’s research community “ridiculous,” adding that his company’s efforts to establish closer ties have proven futile, “I’ll be blunt: I don’t think our relationship is good enough,” he says. Brownell also point out that, while hundreds of millions in public funds have flowed into Waterloo’s ecosystem, little funding is available for Canadian scientists wishing to make the most of D-Wave’s hardware—despite the fact that it remains unclear which core quantum technology will prove the most profitable.
There’s a lot more to Semeniuk’s article but this is the last excerpt,
The world isn’t waiting for Canada’s quantum rivals to forge a united front. Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel are racing to develop a gate-model quantum computer—the sector’s ultimate goal. (Google’s researchers have said they will unveil a significant development early next year.) With the U.K., Australia and Japan pouring money into quantum, Canada, an early leader, is under pressure to keep up. The federal government is currently developing a strategy for supporting the country’s evolving quantum sector and, ultimately, getting a return on its approximately $1-billion investment over the past decade [emphasis mine].
I wonder where the “approximately $1-billion … ” figure came from. I ask because some years ago MP Peter Julian asked the government for information about how much Canadian federal money had been invested in nanotechnology. The government replied with sheets of paper (a pile approximately 2 inches high) that had funding disbursements from various ministries. Each ministry had its own method with different categories for listing disbursements and the titles for the research projects were not necessarily informative for anyone outside a narrow specialty. (Peter Julian’s assistant had kindly sent me a copy of the response they had received.) The bottom line is that it would have been close to impossible to determine the amount of federal funding devoted to nanotechnology using that data. So, where did the $1-billion figure come from?
In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Council of Canadian Academies assesses the ‘quantum’ situation in its more academically inclined, “The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada,” when it’s released later this year (2018).
Despite any doubts one might have about Lazaridis’ approach to research and technology, his tremendous investment and support cannot be denied. Without him, Canada’s quantum research efforts would be substantially less significant. As for the ‘cowboys’ in Vancouver, it takes a certain temperament to found a start-up company and it seems the D-Wave folks have more in common with Lazaridis than they might like to admit. As for the Quanta graduate programme, it’s early days yet and no one should ever count out Alberta.
Meanwhile, one can continue to hope that a more thoughtful approach to regional collaboration will be adopted so Canada can continue to blaze trails in the field of quantum research.
I have two brain news bits, one about neural networks and quantum entanglement and another about how the brain operates on more than three dimensions.
Quantum entanglement and neural networks
A June 13, 2017 news item on phys.org describes how machine learning can be used to solve problems in physics (Note: Links have been removed),
Machine learning, the field that’s driving a revolution in artificial intelligence, has cemented its role in modern technology. Its tools and techniques have led to rapid improvements in everything from self-driving cars and speech recognition to the digital mastery of an ancient board game.
Now, physicists are beginning to use machine learning tools to tackle a different kind of problem, one at the heart of quantum physics. In a paper published recently in Physical Review X, researchers from JQI [Joint Quantum Institute] and the Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC) at the University of Maryland showed that certain neural networks—abstract webs that pass information from node to node like neurons in the brain—can succinctly describe wide swathes of quantum systems.
An artist’s rendering of a neural network with two layers. At the top is a real quantum system, like atoms in an optical lattice. Below is a network of hidden neurons that capture their interactions (Credit: E. Edwards/JQI)
Dongling Deng, a JQI Postdoctoral Fellow who is a member of CMTC and the paper’s first author, says that researchers who use computers to study quantum systems might benefit from the simple descriptions that neural networks provide. “If we want to numerically tackle some quantum problem,” Deng says, “we first need to find an efficient representation.”
On paper and, more importantly, on computers, physicists have many ways of representing quantum systems. Typically these representations comprise lists of numbers describing the likelihood that a system will be found in different quantum states. But it becomes difficult to extract properties or predictions from a digital description as the number of quantum particles grows, and the prevailing wisdom has been that entanglement—an exotic quantum connection between particles—plays a key role in thwarting simple representations.
The neural networks used by Deng and his collaborators—CMTC Director and JQI Fellow Sankar Das Sarma and Fudan University physicist and former JQI Postdoctoral Fellow Xiaopeng Li—can efficiently represent quantum systems that harbor lots of entanglement, a surprising improvement over prior methods.
What’s more, the new results go beyond mere representation. “This research is unique in that it does not just provide an efficient representation of highly entangled quantum states,” Das Sarma says. “It is a new way of solving intractable, interacting quantum many-body problems that uses machine learning tools to find exact solutions.”
The result was a more complete account of the capabilities of certain neural networks to represent quantum states. In particular, the team studied neural networks that use two distinct groups of neurons. The first group, called the visible neurons, represents real quantum particles, like atoms in an optical lattice or ions in a chain. To account for interactions between particles, the researchers employed a second group of neurons—the hidden neurons—which link up with visible neurons. These links capture the physical interactions between real particles, and as long as the number of connections stays relatively small, the neural network description remains simple.
Specifying a number for each connection and mathematically forgetting the hidden neurons can produce a compact representation of many interesting quantum states, including states with topological characteristics and some with surprising amounts of entanglement.
Beyond its potential as a tool in numerical simulations, the new framework allowed Deng and collaborators to prove some mathematical facts about the families of quantum states represented by neural networks. For instance, neural networks with only short-range interactions—those in which each hidden neuron is only connected to a small cluster of visible neurons—have a strict limit on their total entanglement. This technical result, known as an area law, is a research pursuit of many condensed matter physicists.
These neural networks can’t capture everything, though. “They are a very restricted regime,” Deng says, adding that they don’t offer an efficient universal representation. If they did, they could be used to simulate a quantum computer with an ordinary computer, something physicists and computer scientists think is very unlikely. Still, the collection of states that they do represent efficiently, and the overlap of that collection with other representation methods, is an open problem that Deng says is ripe for further exploration.
Blue Brain is a Swiss government brain research initiative which officially came to life in 2006 although the initial agreement between the École Politechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and IBM was signed in 2005 (according to the project’s Timeline page). Moving on, the project’s latest research reveals something astounding (from a June 12, 2017 Frontiers Publishing press release on EurekAlert),
For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions – ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain’s deepest architectural secrets.
Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.
“We found a world that we had never imagined,” says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, “there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions.”
Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. “The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly.”
If 4D worlds stretch our imagination, worlds with 5, 6 or more dimensions are too complex for most of us to comprehend. This is where algebraic topology comes in: a branch of mathematics that can describe systems with any number of dimensions. The mathematicians who brought algebraic topology to the study of brain networks in the Blue Brain Project were Kathryn Hess from EPFL and Ran Levi from Aberdeen University.
“Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures – the trees in the forest – and see the empty spaces – the clearings – all at the same time,” explains Hess.
In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex – the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance. Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain’s wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible.
When the researchers presented the virtual brain tissue with a stimulus, cliques of progressively higher dimensions assembled momentarily to enclose high-dimensional holes, that the researchers refer to as cavities. “The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” says Levi. “It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates.”
The big question these researchers are asking now is whether the intricacy of tasks we can perform depends on the complexity of the multi-dimensional “sandcastles” the brain can build. Neuroscience has also been struggling to find where the brain stores its memories. “They may be ‘hiding’ in high-dimensional cavities,” Markram speculates.
About Blue Brain
The aim of the Blue Brain Project, a Swiss brain initiative founded and directed by Professor Henry Markram, is to build accurate, biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the rodent brain, and ultimately, the human brain. The supercomputer-based reconstructions and simulations built by Blue Brain offer a radically new approach for understanding the multilevel structure and function of the brain. http://bluebrain.epfl.ch
Frontiers is a leading community-driven open-access publisher. By taking publishing entirely online, we drive innovation with new technologies to make peer review more efficient and transparent. We provide impact metrics for articles and researchers, and merge open access publishing with a research network platform – Loop – to catalyse research dissemination, and popularize research to the public, including children. Our goal is to increase the reach and impact of research articles and their authors. Frontiers has received the ALPSP Gold Award for Innovation in Publishing in 2014. http://www.frontiersin.org.
Some years ago a friend who’d attended a conference on humour told me I really shouldn’t talk about humour until I had a degree on the topic. I decided the best way to deal with that piece of advice was to avoid all mention of any theories about humour to that friend. I’m happy to say the strategy has worked well although this latest research may allow me to broach the topic once again. From a March 17, 2017 Frontiers (publishing) news release on EurekAlert (Note: A link has been removed),
Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 789. Whether this pun makes you giggle or groan in pain, your reaction is a consequence of the ambiguity of the joke. Thus far, models have not been able to fully account for the complexity of humor or exactly why we find puns and jokes funny, but a research article recently published in Frontiers in Physics suggests a novel approach: quantum theory.
By the way, it took me forever to get the joke. I always blame these things on the fact that I learned French before English (although my English is now my strongest language). So, for anyone who may immediately grasp the pun: Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 78 (ate) 9.
This news release was posted by Anna Sigurdsson on March 22, 2017 on the Frontiers blog,
Aiming to answer the question of what kind of formal theory is needed to model the cognitive representation of a joke, researchers suggest that a quantum theory approach might be a contender. In their paper, they outline a quantum inspired model of humor, hoping that this new approach may succeed at a more nuanced modeling of the cognition of humor than previous attempts and lead to the development of a full-fledged, formal quantum theory model of humor. This initial model was tested in a study where participants rated the funniness of verbal puns, as well as the funniness of variants of these jokes (e.g. the punchline on its own, the set-up on its own). The results indicate that apart from the delivery of information, something else is happening on a cognitive level that makes the joke as a whole funny whereas its deconstructed components are not, and which makes a quantum approach appropriate to study this phenomenon.
For decades, researchers from a range of different fields have tried to explain the phenomenon of humor and what happens on a cognitive level in the moment when we “get the joke”. Even within the field of psychology, the topic of humor has been studied using many different approaches, and although the last two decades have seen an upswing of the application of quantum models to the study of psychological phenomena, this is the first time that a quantum theory approach has been suggested as a way to better understand the complexity of humor.
Previous computational models of humor have suggested that the funny element of a joke may be explained by a word’s ability to hold two different meanings (bisociation), and the existence of multiple, but incompatible, ways of interpreting a statement or situation (incongruity). During the build-up of the joke, we interpret the situation one way, and once the punch line comes, there is a shift in our understanding of the situation, which gives it a new meaning and creates the comical effect.
However, the authors argue that it is not the shift of meaning, but rather our ability to perceive both meanings simultaneously, that makes a pun funny. This is where a quantum approach might be able to account for the complexity of humor in a way that earlier models cannot. “Quantum formalisms are highly useful for describing cognitive states that entail this form of ambiguity,” says Dr. Liane Gabora from the University of British Columbia, corresponding author of the paper. “Funniness is not a pre-existing ‘element of reality’ that can be measured; it emerges from an interaction between the underlying nature of the joke, the cognitive state of the listener, and other social and environmental factors. This makes the quantum formalism an excellent candidate for modeling humor,” says Dr. Liane Gabora.
Although much work and testing remains before the completion of a formal quantum theory model of humor to explain the cognitive aspects of reacting to a pun, these first findings provide an exciting first step and opens for the possibility of a more nuanced modeling of humor. “The cognitive process of “getting” a joke is a difficult process to model, and we consider the work in this paper to be an early first step toward an eventually more comprehensive theory of humor that includes predictive models. We believe that the approach promises an exciting step toward a formal theory of humor, and that future research will build upon this modest beginning,” concludes Dr. Liane Gabora.
This paper has been published in an open access journal. In viewing the acknowledgements at the end of the paper I found what I found to be a surprising funding agency,
This work was supported by a grant (62R06523) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We are grateful to Samantha Thomson who assisted with the development of the questionnaire and the collection of the data for the study reported here.
While I’m at this, I might as well mention that Kirsty Katto is from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia and, for those unfamiliar with the geography, the University of British Columbia is the the Canada’s province of British Columbia.
This is very short notice but if you do have some free time on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 from 6 – 8:30 pm, you can check out Science World’s Quantum: The Exhibition for free and watch a series of short films. Here’s more from the Quantum Shorts & Quantum Applications event page,
Join us for an evening of quantum art and science. Visit Quantum: The Exhibition and view a series of short films inspired by the science, history, and philosophy of quantum. Find some answers to your Quantum questions at this mind-expanding panel discussion.
Thursday, February 23:
6pm Check out Quantum: The Exhibition
7pm Quantum Shorts Screening
7:45pm Panel Discussion/Presentation
8:30pm Q & A
Light refreshments will be available.
There are still spaces as of Weds., Feb. 22, 2017:; you can register for the event here.
This will be of the last chances you’ll have to see Quantum: The Exhibition as the show’s here last day is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2017.