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Blog

A scientist born to question

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Anton Zeilinger, before giving today’s plenary lecture

By James Dacey in Torino

It’s the end of my third and final day here at the Euroscience Open Forum in Torino and I’m reaching that point of exhaustion you get to after dashing around a huge conference centre for several days straight. These things would be so much easier if you could somehow turn up at several sessions simultaneously. But that’s just the tiredness making me silly, right?

Well one man who would never say the word impossible is Anton Zeilinger, the quantum information luminary from the University of Vienna.

Zeilinger was giving the evening’s plenary lecture and he used the platform to wax lyrical about the beauty of quantum mechanics, but also to remind everyone that no theory is ever perfect and that we always need to think outside the bounds of accepted logic.

Zeilinger of course has been a pioneering figure in many areas of quantum information science including quantum cryptography, teleportation and quantum computing.

Before his lecture the free-thinking Austrian was generous enough to give me an hour of his time for an interview, and it proved most enlightening. He is one of those academics who will happily let his ideas run away with him as he always seems to be looking beyond your question to the bigger implications.

In the hour we discussed many things including Zeilinger’s admiration for Einstein’s stubbornness (even when he was wrong), and his desire for children to be exposed to quantum mechanics from a young age, perhaps through incorporating the concepts into computer games.

The full interview will appear on physicsworld.com in the near future. For now though, from me in Torino, it’s arrivederci.

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5 comments

  1. I read the whole interview with Zeilinger on physicsworld.com. He is very good, theoretically speaking, about the need to “think out of the box” in order to break out of the incremental mode of developing physics, which is yielding ever-diminishing returns. I wrote him an email in that regard, pointing him to my URL for some new inspiration.
    I question his assessment of “the beauty of quantum mechanics.” It DOES work, and the person who masters its intricacies can be said to have a “beautiful mind.” But it’s a stretch to nominate a convoluted and uninterpretable scheme of calculation “beautiful.” The standard of “beauty” is stretched to fit the most arcane theories in physics, such as string theory, no matter how ugly such schemes appear by conventional standards of beauty. The uglier physics becomes, the more “elegant” it is touted to be.

  2. I read the whole interview with Zeilinger on physicsworld.com. He is very good, theoretically speaking, about the need to “think out of the box” in order to break out of the incremental mode of developing physics, which is yielding ever-diminishing returns. I wrote him an email in that regard, pointing him to my URL for some new inspiration.

  3. I question his assessment of “the beauty of quantum mechanics.” It DOES work, and the person who masters its intricacies can be said to have a “beautiful mind.” But it’s a stretch to nominate a convoluted and uninterpretable scheme of calculation “beautiful.” The standard of “beauty” is stretched to fit the most arcane theories in physics, such as string theory, no matter how ugly such schemes appear by conventional standards of beauty. The uglier physics becomes, the more “elegant” it is touted to be.

  4. The men who succeed are the efficient few. They are the few who have the ambition and will power to develop themselves.

  5. There are two ways to teach quantum mechanics. The first way — which for most physicists today is still the only way — follows the historical order in which the ideas were discovered. So, you start with classical mechanics and electrodynamics, solving lots of grueling differential equations at every step. Then you learn about the “blackbody paradox” and various strange experimental results, and the great crisis these things posed for physics.

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