A quantum of science

In physics we do things and afterwards worry about whether they worked

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Home-made graphene

I have just come across a youtube video, pointed out at Asymptotia, which gives detailed instructions on how to make graphene at home using a pencil and some gecko tape. It is one of the coolest physics I’ve come across, although I will only be able to look at my graphene when I have access to a microscope which I won’t until next week! This makes the end of my holiday something to look forward to, I suppose…

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Quantum effects in biology

Quantum mechanics is omnipresent – I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a theme of this blog because I don’t think I’ve been blogging for long enough to have established any themes.

The point still stands, though. Quantum mechanics is now accepted as a fundamental theory of nature and it is the basis of modern physics and chemistry. Biology, However, over its rapid development in the last 60 years or so has not manifested any inherently quantum mechanical effects beyond those that are part of the underlying chemistry.

That is changing. I have recently come across three papers on the arxiv which demonstrate quantum mechanics in avian navigation, photosynthesis and, however speculative it may be, the structure of the DNA.

Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010)

Benoit Mandelbrot died on last week, aged 85. He made a well-recognize contribution to the emerging science of chaos and nonlinear systems and in my opinion its significance will greatly increase in the coming years.

It is often said that the best way to celebrate an artist is through its work. I recommend the article on the Mandelbrot set over at n-Category cafe.

Quantum Optics and Quantum information at UCSB

As some of you might have realized from my earlier posts, I’ve been getting very excited about quantum information, quantum foundations and related fields.

The thing is, these are very new, albeit incredibly vibrant research fields and there is no tried and tested route into the subject in the way there is for some of the more traditional disciplines. I have therefore been spending quite a bit of time surfing the net to find the right resources and I thought I’d post some of the more interesting ones here. This is the first post in an informal series, if you like.

So today’s link is Dirk Bouwmeester Quantum Optics and Quantum information group and UCSB. The leader of the group, Dirk Bouwmeester was involved in the first experimental demonstrations of quantum teleportation, quantum cloning, 3-particle entanglement and stimulated emission on entangled photons. The group’s research is in four main areas:

  • entangled photons
  • quantum dots and microtubules and DNA
  • quantum dots and microcavities
  • macroscopic quantum superposition

For someone like me, a newbie to the field, it makes great reading!

As soon as I can I will write something about the details of this work.

Carbon is this year’s theme: Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Congratulations to Richard F. Heck, Ei-iechi Negishi and Akira Suzuki who were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “palladium catalysed cross couplings in organic synthesis”. It is a very well deserved prize: one of today’s articles mentioned that about 25% of all reactions in pharmaceutics uses the methods developed by the three professors, and with that in mind it is a surprise that they they did not receive the award earlier.

As has already been pointed out elsewhere, carbon seems to be the theme of this year’s Nobel Prizes, in science at least, given the graphene Physics Prize (see the post below) and today’s prize on carbon bonding. It is a testimony, I think, to the growing important of the emerging interdisciplinary field of Materials Science 🙂

For those interested in learning more about Heck, Negishi and Suzuki’s work, I would point to the Swedish Academy’s Scientific Background document for the prize (the link is directly to a reasonably-sized pdf file). If you are interested in theoretical approaches to the problem, I would suggest that you visit this article by Ross H. McKenzie who has found a study of the problem using DFT.

Nobel Prize in Physics 2010

Congratulations to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who received today’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene.

Graphene, as some of you will no doubt know, has been a “hot” research topic since 2004 with an astonishing number of potential applications; however, how much of this potential is actually realized is to be seen, as Joerg Heber argues in his post Great, the physics Nobel prize for graphene! Now don’t overhype it… .

For those wishing to find out more, I recommend the post on Backreaction which contains some excellent links.

Finally, I would also like to congratulate the exceptionally well deserved yesterday’s Nobel Prize in Medicine laureate, Robert Edwards.

QuantumFIRE alpha

QuantumFIRE alpha is a research project that invites the public to donate computing power for scientific research in Quantum Foundations and Solid State Physics. The initiative comes from Cambridge University research groups I believe (though I may be wrong on this one!). It is easy to participate: you just download and run a free program on your computer – see here.

Needless to say, I encourage everyone to take part in this initiative, if you can. I certainly will.


Science is vital!

As I am being educated in the UK and intend to attend university here, I am becoming increasingly appalled by the treatment of science we are seeing. Science funding has been under severe pressure for the last several years, first under the previous Labour government, and now, along with so much else, under the Coalition which is planning excruciatingly severe cuts .

Science is crucial to the economic and social future of the UK. It would be devastating for the UK to give up its position as almost certainly the second most powerful country in the world, after only the USA, in higher education and scientific research. Even today (again, after several years of cuts to grants in the physical sciences), the vast majority (over 90%) of research funding goes to world-class scientists, as judged by the latest Research Assessment Exercise. It is impossible to cut this without reducing the amount of excellent research produced in the UK. Moreover, threats of such cuts are already making scientists consider their options — most other countries are increasing, rather than decreasing, their science budgets not despite but because of the economic downturn and growing deficits.

The evidence is clear that investing in research brings a range of economic and social benefits, and that severe cuts at the very moment that our competitor nations are investing more could jeopardize the future of UK science.

For the few reader of this blog, I would like to point out the concerted effort to push back against the planned short-sighted cuts, under the banner of the Science is Vital campaign.

From their website, Science is Vital is

… a group of concerned scientists, engineers and supporters of science who are campaigning to prevent destructive levels of cuts to science funding in the UK.

and the concrete steps that one can take to help the cause (mostly useful if you live in Britain) are

1. Sign the Campaign for Science & Engineering petition.
2. Join the Science is Vital demo in central London, Saturday 9th October at 2 PM.
3. Write to your MP about the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths.
4. Come to the Houses of Parliament for the Science is Vital lobby of MPs on 12th October, 3.30 to 4.30 PM.
5. Spread the word using the posters.

I would urge you to sign the ScienceIsVital petition. It is the least we can do to help maintain Britain’s historic strength in the area. For reasons that are both personal (I will be attending a university affected by these cuts) and intellectual, I am hoping that the scale of these cuts will be less than is currently planned. because . With scientists being very much “footloose” and other countries increasing their science funding this will inevitably mean that the UK will lose much of its research excellence is the legacy of many generations.