Towards paving the way for signatures of quantum physics

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by Michiel de Moor

Even if you’re in a niche research field, it seems almost impossible to keep up with all the scientific literature that has been coming out in the past couple of years. There are estimations that the global scientific output doubles every 9 years, so it’s not going to get any easier. If you want people to read about your results, you’ll have to stand out. An important part of standing out is having a good abstract.

The abstract contains the essence of the story, and summarizes the most important results. Skimming over the abstract is usually the first filter people apply to figure out whether or not a paper is worth reading in detail. In this sense, the abstract is like the window display of a department store, designed to lure people inside.

Designing a window display is big business, and over the years many courses have popped up that teach aspiring researchers how to write better papers and capture their intended audience. Archetypical phrases can help to quickly communicate meaning: because people are familiar with the phrase, it takes them less effort to get the information contained in it. However, as with most things that get overused, the meaning of these phrases can be lost or transformed over time.

Below are a few phrases that I’ve encountered regularly in physics papers, what signals they send, and what to look out for when using/reading them.

1. <Research field X> has received a lot of attention recently.

By signalling which research field you think your research belongs to, you show people who belong to the same “tribe” that this paper should be of interest to them. It also allows you to place your contribution in a broader context. The proliferation of increasingly specialized journals is a double-edged blade in this case: it facilitates publishing about tiny details of a larger issue, but it also makes it more difficult to connect to researchers outside your tribe. Additionally, it can create an echo chamber, where the same reasons for the field’s existence keep being repeated until they become dogma. Be aware of your intended audience, especially if you’re trying to step across tribal lines and connect with a more general subset of physicists.

2. We find clear signatures of <X>

Sometimes, experimental results can be very clearly explained by an elegant physical model, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Sometimes, while the model doesn’t exactly line up with the experimental results, it paints the same broad-strokes picture while making minimal assumptions. And sometimes, the signal you measure ventures into “Jesus shaped potato chip” territory. Calling your results “signatures” gives the clear signal that a) there’s definitely something here and b) it’s not clear what that something is. And this is okay! Just because you don’t know what’s happening doesn’t mean the observation has no value to others. It is important not to speculate too wildly though: extraordinary claims still require extraordinary evidence.

3. These results pave the way for <X>

This signal tells your audience that not only is this result intrinsically valuable, it also serves as an enabling technology for other things they might find interesting. By “paving the road”, you suggest that all obstacles to further progress have been eliminated. However, it’s important to recognize that not all roads are created equal. For example, even if you manage to go down a steep, winding mountain road on a unicycle, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do it again. Also, remember that a piece of road is generally not considered useful if it doesn’t connect to a larger network. Because of this, it can be tempting to try to connect a slightly dull result to a more exciting bigger goal in an attempt to get people to pay attention to your paper. If you can justify this, for example because your results might be relevant for a certain community in a way that is not obvious (see point 1), then go for it. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of people also use this tactic as a form of scientific clickbait.

Conveying the results of months (or even years) of hard work in a clear, concise manner is one of the most difficult parts of science (at least, for me it is!). The kinds of phrases I described here can serve as crutches to help you get started on the difficult path towards writing better papers. But just like real crutches, at some point you’re better off casting them aside and learning to walk by yourself.

 


michielMichiel de Moor is an experimental physicist working on topological quantum computer. He spends most of time in a loop of fabricating quantum devices and measuring quantum devices. When he’s not working in the cleanroom, he enjoys seemingly pointless discussions and taking part in pub quizzes. Groundhog Day is one of his favorite movies.

 

Inside Intel

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By Jelmer Boter

In the fall of 2015 QuTech and Intel Corporation joined forces in an active collaboration working on the realisation of a quantum computer. The collaboration comprises comprises Edoardo Charbon’s control electronics, Koen Bertels’ architecture work, Leo DiCarlo’s superconducting qubits and Lieven Vandersypen’s silicon spin qubits. After having worked on the Delft side of the spin qubit part of that collaboration for almost two years, I spent three months this summer in Hillsboro, Oregon to be on the other side of the phone in our weekly Skype meetings. In this blogpost, I will share some of my experiences with you.

The writer at the entrance of an Intel building

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Around the World in 40 Days (Part One)

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By James Kroll

Research in academic is a tough, gruelling but ultimately rewarding job (otherwise we wouldn’t work so hard at it!). Usually if you ask a scientist about what it is like to work in research, you will be subjected to a coffee fuelled rant about tiresome data analysis, demanding students and endless paper preparation. Unless you catch us in an unusually good mood we won’t take the time to talk about the many things about our job that we genuinely enjoy.

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Research mentality at the Applied Physics sports day

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by Suzanne van Dam

Last Thursday was the yearly Applied Physics sports day. As is tradition, QuTech participated in big numbers. We competed with three teams, and it was clear already from the start that the goal of the day was not just to participate, it was also to win!

The QuTech team.
Figure 1: The QuTech team.

The winners mentality of the QuTech teams made me wonder: why were we more competitive than the average student team? Is there an analogy between sports and research that underpins this?

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The remarkable effectiveness of math

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by Jonas Helsen

So this post will be a bit more, let’s say, philosophical. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on a particular subject which has always struck me when I was studying physics and also now while I’m doing it in what might be called a professional fashion. That subject is mathematics. More precisely it is mathematics as applied to physics. Now I won’t pretend to be anything close to a real mathematician, but when you need a math-person and there are no mathematicians around you can probably do worse than a theoretical physicist. In physics, and also in computer science, we use math; a lot of it. In fact I would say that, and I think most physicists would agree with me, that mathematics is the language the universe is written in. Or at least the only language capable of describing it in an efficient manner. People often marvel at the ability of mathematics to capture physical phenomena in an extremely accurate and efficient manner, often waxing philosophically about the inherent simplicity of the universe. Here I’d like to give some of my, fragmented and incomplete, thoughts on the matter. While I certainly think that the fact that nature is describable at all is a fact worth pondering over long and hard I think the prevalence of math in physics and its remarkable effectiveness is at least partly due to decidedly more down to earth cultural forces present throughout the history of mathematics.

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A day in the life of a Master student

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Author: Sophie Hermans

Hi! My name is Sophie Hermans and I am a Master student in the group of Ronald Hanson. I have started my MSc project about five months ago in the “cavity team”. Today I will take you along and show you what I do on a regular day.

There is no better way than to start the day with a freshly brewed, warm and strong cup of coffee.


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The APS March meeting

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By Jonas Helsen, Christian Dickel, Adriaan Rol, James Kroll and Suzanne Van Dam

The March Meeting of the American Physical Society, held every year in March (hence the name) is probably the largest meeting of physicists in the world. Held in a different city in the US every year it is a five day long whirlwind of talks, discussions, meetings, catching up with old friends and making new ones from all over the world. Since a sizeable subsection of the March meeting deals with quantum information processing (as of this year we are officially a Division!) a large group of Qutech scientists made the trek to New Orleans, both to speak about our latest developments and to learn about science going on all around the world. For this occasion we asked a few people to jot down their impressions of this weeklong carnival of physics and have bundled them in this blogpost. We will also add some pictures which hopefully convey the general scale and feel of the March meeting.

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Why turning a ket into a cat may or may not be a good idea

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By Adriaan Rol

When I’m at a party people often ask me what I do.

There is a lot of things I can talk about: why is a quantum computer interesting or useful , or:  what do I actually do during my day. But quite often people end up asking a confused question about this curious story of an undead cat. In this blog post I will try to shed some light on this case as well as delve into the question of why we use these kind of stories.

Dead? Or alive? Or both?

When trying to understand a new theory we physicists love our thought experiments.  We take some mathematical model of the world, change some parameters to see how it behaves and try to extract some rules of thumb or intuition from it. Continue reading Why turning a ket into a cat may or may not be a good idea

Playing the Quantum Ballgame

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By Jonas Helsen

One of the things that is often repeated about quantum computing is the idea that a quantum computer is somehow more powerful than regular computers because, when considering a problem it can “try all possible solutions at once”. Let’s get this out of the way first and say that this is not exactly the case. While we would very much love a computer that tries all solutions at once (this would be extremely useful) quantum computers sadly aren’t quite this powerful. Of course, as with all good clichés it does contain a grain of truth. In this blog post I will try to explain in a (sort of) simple way what makes quantum computers more powerful than classical computers.

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Playing cards with quantum entanglement

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by Gláucia Murta

You have probably heard that entanglement is a very strong correlation way beyond anything we can conceive classically. However, as we’ve seen from Jeremy’s post , these strong correlations by itself do not allow us to send any information to the other part. So what can we use entanglement for?… To play games!

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