Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nordita's Science Writers Workshop on Quantum Theory: Apply Now

Yes! We will have another science writers workshop at Nordita, after last year's workshop was as enjoyable as it was interesting, and we received numerous encouragements to continue with our efforts in science communication. So George and I, we have teamed up again and decided that after astrophysics and cosmology, this time we will focus on all things quantum. We got financial support from FQXi and the Fetzer Franklin Fund, and are well along with the organization.

I am particularly excited that Chad Orzel, he who teaches physics to his dog and preaches physics at Uncertain Principles, will join us and give a lecture. Which is not to say that the rest of the lecturers are any less interesting! We got everything covered from atom interferometry and quantum computing, over tests of the foundations of quantum mechanics to topological insulators and the gauge-gravity duality - and more.

You can find the full list on the workshop website and the purpose of this post is to let you know that you can now apply to join our meeting. The number of participants is strictly limited due to space restrictions and fire regulations, but we do have some spaces left. If you are a science writer who covers physics, and quantum stuff crosses your way every other day, then this workshop is for you. Just fill in the webform and tell us a few words about who you are and what you do and we will get back to you.


  1. I hope Amanda Gefter will participate; I was very impressed by her book 'Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn'

  2. It looks great Sabine, and I don't mean to be a negative ninny, but jeesh, if you are doing a writers workshop on quantum theory then wouldn't it be a good idea to invite at least one person who is a specialist in the foundations of quantum theory? Especially, since that is the bit that people find the most challenging to communicate effectively.

  3. I hope Amanda Gefter will participate; I was very impressed by her book 'Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn'

    Shouldn't you hope she would participate if you were not impressed with her book? :-)

    OK, that would be as a participant. But as a mentor then, yes, your statement makes sense.

  4. Matt,

    The point of the workshop is to provide science writers with background on what they are likely to be writing about. Sorry to say it so bluntly, but foundations of quantum mechanics only make the cut when they are subject to experimental test, and that we have covered. Best,


  5. "Sorry to say it so bluntly, but foundations of quantum mechanics only make the cut when they are subject to experimental test..."

    I don't think that is true for a couple of reasons. Firstly, EVERY article on quantum theory has to negotiate the difficulties of what to say about the meaning of superposition, the uncertainty principle, entanglement, etc. In fact, they barely ever want to talk about anything else, so I would say that science writers are almost always ONLY writing about the foundations of quantum theory. These are things that many science writers routinely get wrong and they get them wrong at least partially because most physicists don't understand them properly, so they explain them wrong. This is precisely the sort of thing that having a foundationally oriented person around could help with.

    It will surely be the case that quite a bit of time in the workshop will be devoted to discussing these concepts and, given that there are people in the world who's job it is to understand these concepts, it seems quite bizarre to not invite one of them. It is a bit like running a workshop on how to understand statistics without inviting any statisticians to it.

    Secondly, depending on your definition of a "science writer" it is simply not true that science writers are not asked to write about theoretical quantum foundations. Writers for outlets like Nature News, Physics World, etc. are routinely writing about theory as I can tell from my email inbox, and freelance writers are commissioned to write profiles on people studying this stuff by FQXi, John Templeton, etc.

  6. Matt,

    It's a three day workshop, we simply cannot cover everything. Priorities have to be set, sad but true. Rest assured that superpositon, entanglement and the uncertainty principle, as well as Bell's theorem will be well covered, not at least because we'll be visiting the quantum optics lab next door. Best,


  7. On topic: good initiative Sabine! I think these things are very important! Maybe those journalists will learn something new, such that they may write (even) better pieces about physics in the future.

    Off topic: how was it as a citizen from the middle of Europe to move to Sweden? I am applying for a PhD position in Gothenborg, so some experiences are welcome :)

  8. Erik,

    I hope that also the physicists will learn something new :) Regarding Sweden, not sure exactly what you are asking. As a EU citizen moving to another EU country has been very straight-forward. The administrational hazard has been very limited. The move itself of course sucked, then there's the settling problems. And then finally there's the culture shock. My culture shock from moving to the US and Canada has been very limited, mostly I think because I knew these countries somewhat already. Not so with Sweden. I guess I'm still shocked ;) Best,


  9. Please explain what composed the culture shock on moving to Sweden!

  10. The Swedes are very, eh, borg, if you know what I mean.

    Example: I had a problem getting a phone contract because when I arrived I had not paid taxes in Sweden for at least 6 months. I told the guy in the mobile phone store that's none of their business and I have a copy of my contract to document that I have income. He said no, I said wtf, he said thats-ho-we-do-it-in-Sweden, I said I want to speak to his supervisor (recall I moved there from North America). He vanished into a back room, out came the supervisor, who pretty much looked and sounded the same (or maybe it just was the same guy), and repeated a few times thats-how-we-do-it-in-Sweden. Same thing with two other phone companies. So much about the free market.

    I could go on with similar examples for some hours (and let me not get started about the tax regulations at the university of the basically non-existent rental market in Stockholm) but in the end it always comes down to thats-how-we-do-it-in-Sweden, and you better swallow that pill and join the borg.

    Don't misunderstand me, the Swedes are personally very nice people and all, but to me there's too much socialism and conformity in the way they've arranged their living together.

  11. I know what you mean. I've never lived in Sweden, but I speak Swedish reasonably well and have spent maybe a year there spread out over the last 30 years. It has its advantages and disadvantages. If you don't like it then, yes, conform or be cast out. On the other hand, if you do like it, you can use it as an argument in your favour.

    I toyed with the idea of immigrating to Sweden, but have dropped this idea. There are two reasons for this. First, Sweden has changed, mostly for the worst, in the last 30 years (maybe there is a longer trend, but I am not as familiar with the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s). Second, on balance, I prefer living in Germany, though there are things in Sweden which I think are better than Germany and in some cases better than anywhere else. (Add to this the facts that a) many things I like about Sweden are more abstract and don't affect my day-to-day life whereas the things I like in Germany do and b) the older and more established one is, the more difficult it is to immigrate, even if there were an objective advantage to doing so.)

  12. "The Swedes are very, eh, borg, if you know what I mean." Resistance is not futile! Resistance is voltage/current. It's all about interface discontinuities and evanescent waves.

    Quantum theory mathematics is not common reader accessible. Quantum theory meaning is still squishy, even to its keepers. Why else would it be interesting?

  13. Uncle Al,
    So we cannot tell from a blurry picture if things actually touch or not.
    Moving to an urban setting from a rural one is easy enough but when moving back the culture lag kicks in.
    What better state but a neutral one to decide Nobel Prizes? No longer an aggressor but not afraid either.
    But one does not have to be yellow to be courious.
    I'll give Sweden a 7 of 9. But when faced with an individual thinker I do not think they will understand her.

  14. /* or maybe it just was the same guy */

    Jawohl, ordnung muss sein...

  15. Haha, thanks for the experiences on Sweden guys! @ Bee: indeed, I was asking for the cultural shock ;)


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