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Quantum punchlines, the cloud atlas, NASA schooled


Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive (Courtesy: Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

Quantum humour: is the joke dead or alive? (Creative Commons/Benoît Leblanc)

By Sarah Tesh

 You may not normally associate humour with quantum theory, but it’s not just jokes about Schrödinger’s cat and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that links the two. Liane Gabora of the University of British Columbia in Canada and Kirsty Kitto of Queensland University of Technology in Australia have created a new model for humour based upon the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory. The idea for their “Quantum Theory of Humour” stems from jokes like “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” Separately, the statements aren’t amusing but together they make a punchline. This requires you to hold two ideas in your head at once – a concept analogous to quantum superposition.

Did you know that there is an International Cloud Atlas? Well, there is and it doesn’t just define clouds as fluffy or stormy. In fact, there are actually many stages to formally characterizing a cloud. Firstly there are 10 basic “genera” – these include the relatively well-known cirrus, cumulus and stratus. Within the genera are “species”, which describe the internal structure, and then “varieties” that describe organization and transparency.  And finally, there’s “supplementary features and accessory cloudssmall clouds that either attached or mostly separated from the associated with larger cloud. Now, for the first time in 30::years, the World Meteorological Organization has added 12 new descriptors to the atlas. Sounding rather like Harry Potter spells or Roman emperors to those of us not fluent in Latin, the new cloud types include volutus (cloud tubes), flammagenitus (caused by wildfire heat) and cataractagenitus (generated by spray from waterfalls).

NASA had a bit of a “facepalm” moment this week when a school student spotted errors in the agency’s data. As part of the citizen science project the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), 17-year-old Miles Solomon and classmates had been given data from The TimPix Project. While looking at readings from the International Space Station’s radiation detector, Solomon had noticed negative values – something not physically possible. Solomon, who is from Sheffield in the UK, emailed NASA to tell them what he had found. It turned out that although they knew there was an error, they thought it was only happening once or twice a year, but Solomon had found it happening multiple times a day. Larry Pinksy from the University of Houston in the US works on the radiation monitors and said Solomon’s finding was “appreciated more so than it being embarrassing.”

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  1. Trackback: QUT News & Events Wrap – March 27 edition –

  2. Trackback: QUT News & Events Wrap – March 27 edition – All-In Live News


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