Posts by: Hamish Johnston

How to make money by quantum computing

Quantum temple: will the congregation at Bristol's Wills Memorial Building convert to quantum annealing?

Quantum temple: will the congregation at Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building convert to quantum annealing?

By Hamish Johnston at the BQIT:16 conference in Bristol

Today I have made the short trip from the office to the University of Bristol, which is hosting the BQIT:16 conference on quantum information. I had been looking forward to the “Industry Perspective” session, which was headlined by Steve Adachi of the US defence supplier Lockheed Martin. Several years ago the firm was the first commercial buyer of what some consider to be the world’s first commercial quantum computer – a device made by Canada’s D-Wave Systems – and I wanted to know what Lockheed Martin was doing with it.

To say that D-Wave and its products are controversial is an understatement. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some delegates to this conference are brought to fisticuffs over D-Wave’s quantum annealing protocols later this evening in Bristol’s cider pubs.

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Thwarting an alien invasion, pi in the sky, listening to the LHC and more

A guide laser

Not bright enough: this adaptive-optics laser would have to be a million times brighter to cloak the Earth. (Courtesy: ESO/G Hüdepohl)

By Hamish Johnston

Sometimes, the biggest laughs on April Fools’ Day come from the stories that read like hoaxes but are actually true. One such item is a proposal by David Kipping and Alex Teachy of Columbia University in the US, who have come up with a way of hiding the Earth from aggressive civilizations on distant planets (at least I think this is real, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were an elaborate hoax!).

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How to cook the perfect steak, Bill Nye gets tangled about entanglement and the challenges of going to Mars

Steaks on a grill (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

The wrong way: where is the liquid nitrogen and duck fat? (CC BY 2.0 _BuBBy_)

By Hamish Johnston

How do you cook the perfect steak? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik of University College London has the answer. To cook his medium-rare steak (pink in the middle with a seared coating on the outside), Miodownik first seals the steak in a vacuum bag and places it in a warm water bath until it reaches 55 °C. He then dips it in liquid nitrogen for 30 s to chill the outer layer without freezing the middle. If that wasn’t unconventional enough, he then throws it into a deep-fat fryer containing duck fat. The result? “A lusciously seared steak, medium rare all the way through. And not a pan in sight!” says Miodownik. The BBC has put together a nice animation of the recipe: “What’s the weirdest way to cook a steak?”.

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‘New boson’ buzz intensifies at CERN, fire prevention in space and Neil Turok on a bright future for physics

The ATLAS detector at CERN

ATLAS under construction: has the experiment gone beyond the Standard Model? (Courtesy: ATLAS)

By Hamish Johnston

Excitement levels in the world of particle physics hit the roof this week as further evidence emerged that physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) may have caught sight of a new particle that is not described by the Standard Model of particle physics. If this turns out to be true, it will be the most profound discovery in particle physics in decades and would surely lead to a Nobel prize.

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Physics versus superheroes, a cosmic landscape and a dress inspired by LIGO

A photograph of the Cosmic Multiverse

Galactic views: the Scottish countryside stretches out beyond the Milky Way. (Courtesy: Crawick Multiverse)

By Hamish Johnston

What to do with an abandoned mine? “Turn it into a neutrino and dark-matter detector” is probably what most physicists would say. But we have lots of those already, so how about “A cosmic landscape worthy of the ancients”? That’s how the artist Charles Jencks describes the Crawick Multiverse, which is located in a former open-cast coal mine in the Scottish countryside about 50 miles south of Glasgow. The “striking landscape of distinctive landforms” includes two mounds representing the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies and a Comet Walk that uses standing stones to emulate a comet’s tail. If the photograh above is any indication, it looks like a lovely day out.

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Sounding off about valleytronics

Photograph of a valley in Glacier National Park in the US

Valley state: real-life landscapes can be as beautiful as their condensed-matter counterparts. (CC BY-SA BorisFromStockdale)

By Hamish Johnston

Condensed matter is a physicist’s paradise because of the seemingly endless number of ways that atoms can be rearranged to create systems with new and exciting behaviours. A great example of this is the emerging field of “valleytronics”, which is concerned with a property of electrons that emerges in some semiconductors and 2D materials such as graphene.

The eponymous valley is a local minimum in the conduction band of a solid that “traps” electrons into a specific momentum state. Things get interesting when a material has two valleys that result in two distinct momentum states. In some materials these states resemble the quantum-mechanical property of spin: an electron can be in one of two spin states (up or down) and it can also be in one of two momentum states. As a result, this property is sometimes referred to as valley pseudospin.

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Celtic god of thunder gets an attosecond makeover

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility.

By Hamish Johnston

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Matt Zepf, who directs the Centre for Plasma Physics at Queen’s University Belfast. Zepf and his colleague Gagik Nersisyan showed me around the TARANIS laser facility, which creates extremely bright flashes of light just like its namesake the Celtic god of thunder.

TARANIS is about to upgraded to TARANIS-X, which will deliver ultrashort pulses of extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) that are just a few attoseconds (10–18 s) in duration. Each attosecond pulse will deliver more than 10 µJ, which Zepf says will make TARANIS-X the most powerful laser of its kind by a comfortable margin.

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Waves of soup, spying on gravity and touring the solar system

Nathan Myrvold's gravity-inspired soup bowl (Courtesy: Modernist Cuisine).

Nathan Myhrvold’s gravity-inspired soup bowl. (Courtesy: Modernist Cuisine)

By Hamish Johnston

Nathan Myhrvold knows a lot about gravity (he worked with Stephen Hawking) and a lot about food (he wrote Modernist Cuisine) so it’s not really surprising that he has designed a soup bowl inspired by the collision of two black holes. Created in 2014, the bowl was made to hold two different types of soup in swirls of space–time. Now that the LIGO observatory has spotted a gravitational wave from the collision of two such black holes, I’m guessing sales of the bowl will be out of this world.

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A big Lidl telescope in Belfast

Alan Fitzsimmons and his telescope

Not so Lidl: Alan Fitzsimmons and his bargain telescope.

By Hamish Johnston

There is an old joke in the UK about going to the discount supermarket Lidl for a pint of milk and coming home with a new set of power tools or ski-wear for the entire family. That’s because the retailer is famous for its seemingly random special offers. One week it could be car accessories and the following week the same shelves could be stocked with pyjamas or camping gear.

But Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast deserves an award for best physics-related Lidl bargain with this huge telescope that he bought at the supermarket. It makes perfect sense to me – both Lidl and the telescope’s maker Bresser are German companies and, of course, Germany is famous for its optics.

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Earth-gazing, a very noteworthy astronomer, chilling with Einstein and more

The Earth as seen by Himawari-8 earlier today. (Courtesy: JSA)

The Earth as seen by Himawari-8 earlier today. (Courtesy: JSA)

By Hamish Johnston

Who hasn’t wanted to float high above the Earth and gaze down on our planet as sunlight and clouds dapple across its surface. Thanks to the “Glittering Blue” animation, such views are not just for a privileged few astronauts. This stunning animation of one day’s observations from the Japanese weather satellite Himawari-8 has been put together by satellite-imagery analyst Charlie Lloyd. He has also included a nice FAQ page that explains some of the amazing phenomena captured by the satellite, including a huge tropical storm and the daily cloud cycles of a rainforest.

You can read more about Lloyd and the images in The Atlantic article “A New and Stunning Way to See the Whole Earth”. If you want to know what Himawari-8 is seeing right now, it has its own live webcam.

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