Nanoscale Superstition


by Michiel de Moor

In our cleanroom, we use nanofabrication techniques to combine materials in a precise and controlled way in order to study the wonders of quantum physics. For a nice introduction on the topic, I recommend reading Madelaine Liddy’s blog post. This post is not about nanofabrication specifics, but more about the people involved in the process.

Doing nanofabrication takes up a significant amount of time. Often it’s very difficult to understand what the important parameters are, and outcomes can seem random. As scientists, we should be rational and analyze the problem, then test possible solutions until we understand what is happening. But as people, we are susceptible to the same kind of magical thinking that makes people believe lightning strikes are a sign of Zeus’ displeasure.

As with cooking food, every research group will have their own fabrication recipes (which are, of course, the very best in the world). Continue reading Nanoscale Superstition

Climbing the Ivory Tower


by Julia Cramer

After some years of doing science in the dark basement of a physics building, one may wonder: ‘who am I?’ Searching for answers at Google Images, there turns out to be a distinct difference between the stereotypes ‘scientist’ and ‘physicist’. Surprisingly, a ‘scientist’ always wears a lab-coat plus safety glasses. The ‘scientist’ works in a clean lab environment, handling chemicals and a microscope. According to Google, the ‘scientist’ is happy and young, can be male or female, black or white.

How large is the contrast to Google’s ‘physicist’: an old, somewhat otherworldly, serious man wearing thick glasses. The man standing in front of a whiteboard is writing down equations and drawing spheres on a blackboard. It is interesting to notice that Google barely makes a distinction between ‘physicist’ and ‘professor’. Leaving behind the fact that both a ‘scientist’ and a ‘professor’ can be an academic in any kind of field, I wonder why the ‘physicist’ never conducts any experiments.

Continue reading Climbing the Ivory Tower

Quantum Teleportation Explained


by Jérémy Ribeiro

Have you ever dreamt about teleportation? You wonder if it is possible, or if we can use it to travel faster than light, or at least to communicate instantaneously. Then you are at the good place. Here I will explain what quantum teleportation is. Behind this very attractive name that reminds us of science fiction, a communication protocol is hidden which uses the mysterious quantum mechanics.

Why do I talk about quantum teleportation ?

I wanted to write about this protocol because we hear a lot about it and a lot of information and explanations can be found about it. But sometimes those are partially wrong, or are a complete nonsense. For example we can read that quantum teleportation is an instantaneous transfer of information at a distance which respects special relativity… Well this is a contradiction.

These misconceptions of the protocol are not surprising since it relies on one of the most ununderstandable and less well understood phenomenon of quantum mechanics: the famous entanglement.

That’s why I will try to clarify what this notorious quantum teleportation actually is. For that I will have to introduce a little bit of quantum mechanics. Therefore there will be some mathematical expressions, but I’ll guide you through it to make you understand what is going on. It shouldn’t be too difficult since you should have already seen all the mathematical concepts in high school (vectors), and I think it is worth it and permits to really understand what quantum teleportation is.

So what is that quantum teleportation ?

The first thing to understand is that we only teleport a quantum state (we will call it \Phi), and not a particle nor any other kind of matter. Only information is transmitted from one place to another. So somehow we will scan the physical system in the first place (which will destroy the state), send the information (by phone, internet or any other way of communication) to an other place and there reconstruct the state. But to do that there are some obstacles. The main obstacle the “scanning phase” is not trivial since we cannot (by the law of quantum mechanics) get all the
information on a state by measuring it, as I will explain later, but only partial information. To overcome that we will need to use a correlated state which will somehow compensate the lack of information.

Continue reading Quantum Teleportation Explained