2010 is a good year (so far)

2010 has been awesome so far. I’m having a hard time keeping up with blogging all the good news.


I was in invited The Winter Meeting on Statistical Mechanics in Taxco, Mexico. What a fantastic conference! I learned a lot about many different areas in Statistical Physics, got to meet many awesome researchers, and the keynote talks were in a natural amphitheater inside the Cacahuamilpa caves. Stunning! This was one of the best conferences I’ve been to.

I was also invited to give a talk at Reed College last week. This was my first time ever in Portland, Oregon, and I fell in love with the city. It felt like a mixture of Austin, Northern California and Seattle that I really liked. The academic culture at Reed is something that should be emulated everywhere: students honestly don’t care about grades, just about learning. One thing is to hear it, and another is to witness how true it is! The physics department at Reed has the most motivated and energetic physicists I’ve ever met. Wow.


Finally, the paper that I had mentioned before appeared in PRL:

Time-Dependent Density Functional Theory for Open Quantum Systems with Unitary Propagation

Also, the PRA on assignment maps is out in the published wild.

Linear assignment maps for correlated system-environment states

How not to lie about Quantum Mechanics?

Writing for the general public about science news is hard. ArsTech has an article where they accuse many news organizations of deliberately lying in their science coverage, and discuss how they can get away with it do to double standards.

As a scientist with interest in informing the public of my research, are there any guidelines to follow when talking to the press? I want them to see them as allies, but most of the science news are so bad I can’t help but hating them.

I’ve thought much about how to describe my research to family and friends, and haven’t found any good and concise way to do it. More specifically, can any one suggest any good, simple, cocktail-party style one-liners to explain what is quantum mechanics and quantum computing, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m lying? If I read again the phrase “what Einstein called spooky action at a distance” I might vomit.

Any ideas?

When Men fly from danger, it is natural for them to run farther than they need.
-The Mischiefs that ought justly to be apprehended from a Whig-goverment

DisCover: Quantum rules Photosynthesis (follow up)

The cover of the Discovery issue that discusses the work at my lab.
The cover of the Discover issue that discusses the work at my lab.

This is a follow up to the post about the Discover magazine article that discusses our group’s research studying quantum effects in photosynthesis. The issue (February) is out in stores now. I never liked Discover magazine much, but this time I had to purchase it.

Click here to see the full article.

Quantum mechanics is controlling my thoughts

Kids were very different then.  They didn’t have their
heads filled with all this Cartesian Dualism…
-Monty Python on Nostalgia

Quantum rules Photosynthesis

My main research project was featured in Discover magazine! The cover has some abstract flowery-looking explosion that represents quantum mechanics.

My work in the Aspuru-Guzik group focuses on the quantum aspects of excitonic transfer as applied to photosynthetic complexes and solar harvesting devices. The mistitled article can be found here:

Is quantum mechanics controlling your brain?

Then came the revelation: Instead of haphazardly moving from one connective channel to the next, as might be seen in classical physics, energy traveled in several directions at the same time. The researchers theorized that only when the energy had reached the end of the series of connections could an efficient pathway retroactively be found. At that point, the quantum process collapsed, and the electrons’ energy followed that single, most effective path. […]

Elated by the finding, researchers are looking to mimic nature’s quantum ability to build solar energy collectors that work with near-photosynthetic efficiency. Alán Aspuru-Guzik, an assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, heads a team that is researching ways to incorporate the quantum lessons of photosynthesis into organic photovoltaic solar cells. This research is in only the earliest stages, but Aspuru-Guzik believes that Fleming’s work will be applicable in the race to manufacture cheap, efficient solar power cells out of organic molecules.

Unfortunately, the pretty good article about quantum effects in photosynthesis is ruined by its title, title that refers only to the final section of the article containing some wild speculations on quantum mechanics and consciousness. Please, don’t take that last part seriously. Although there is strong experimental evidence supporting the role of quantum effects in photosystems, there isn’t anything that suggests a connection between quantum mechanics and consciousness.

But as Deepak Chopra taught us…

The Quantum word has been abused by all sorts of new age movements.

Quantum Healing. Quantum Psychology. Quantum Love.

Nobody explains this phenomenon better than Professor Farnsworth from Futurama.


But as Deepak Chopra taught us, quantum physics means that anything can happen at anytime and for no reason. Also, eat plenty of oatmeal, and animals never had a war! Who is the real animal?
-Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth