The Quantum Pontiff

Like Space Camp, But Quantized

A friend sent me a link to QuantumCamp:

Have you ever wondered how the microscopic Universe works? QuantumCamp is a one week journey through this strange but beautiful world – seeing nothing less than how every atom in our universe is working!

We begin with Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements. We move from Albert Einstein’s idea of quantization and end up seeing the hydrogen spectrum while contemplating the ideas of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

We witness the explosive beauty and inner order of the elements which begs for deeper investigation. We dive in and immerse ourselves in a world where quantum logic guides us to an understanding of the quantum nature of the universe.

Students entering grades 7th – 12th can enroll. These activities are designed for students who plan to choose a career in science and those who have an insatiable desire to find their connection in this Universe.

A cool idea, I think. Okay, I’ll admit it. When I was a wee lad, I attended “computer camp.” Did “computer camp” change my life? Probably not. But I got to see a Mac fry, and they let me program in Pascal which was kind of cool. And who knows, maybe QuantumCamp will be a legendary source of programmers for our future quantum computers?


  1. #1 Neil B ♪
    July 14, 2009

    OK, Quantum Camp is a cool idea and anyone starting in science needs to be aware of how weird our wonderful universe is. QM is part of the fundamental nature of things, not an incidental. It is vital to appreciating the paradoxical nature of atoms. I have taught science in public schools and wonder why more kids don’t ask e.g.: “Hey – you say electrons move around the nucleus, but atoms are “round” like balls. I mean, when atoms pack together, it’s like balls being stuck together, right? Why aren’t they flat, like plates, if they’re made of something going around something else?” I usually pose the issue myself, then talk about electron clouds and such. You know, it isn’t easy explaining what an “electron cloud” is!

    But how are they going to explain “collapse of the wave function” at Quantum Camp? Since education for kids often involves graphics, they should show animations of how WFs evolve together. Well, come to think of it, that’s a reminder we really can’t just sweep the superpositions under the rug as in some snow-jobbing schemes ;-) If they try to show a discontinuous “collapse” deriving from a measurement, it looks absurd as we can agree – but the universe has the right to be weird. Decoherence sounds good to many as a sort of way out; as post-modern philobabble and as (mishandled) math involving typ. density matrices. (DMs are about ensembles and/or chances of WFs being this or that, and thus are inappropriate to model a given instance …) REM that a theoretical modeler picks the parameters by saying “what if we had _____” and need not lump in the classical uncertainties about a given situation, like an experimentalist might have to.

    Here’s another flaw in art deco which is revealing, and directly related to making a sort of movie of what happens: you can’t model AFAICT how decoherence affects WFs either, by an actual time evolution of amplitudes in space and time, can you? If you tried, you’d have to either leave them all there, or show them shrinking/collapsing/slipping off into “another world” anyway and that would expose the decon-man behind the curtain. The chatty snow-job that uses traces and diagonals and suspect phrases like “appear to collapse” can’t cover for the requirement to do an actual process model in space and time – an evolving graphic – can it? I mean, modeled with yadda specific amplitudes as genuine functions of x, y, z, t as in Schrodinger evolution – because if you did, then you’d have the alive and dead cat etc. staying together.

    PS, I’ll try to minimize how many threads where I pick on the decocon but “just couldn’t resist” this time – and it’s relevant to the educational process.

  2. #2 Joe Fitzsimons
    July 14, 2009

    It sounds like an interesting idea, but I must admit I’m not sure quantum is quite as cool as space when you are that age. After my undergraduate degree I spent a few months on a program sponsored by the Irish government at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. I already had been accepted for a PhD on quantum stuff, but the first time I passed an actual spaceship on the way into work, I very nearly changed my mind.

    I have some photos of a group of us standing directly below a Delta IV Heavy on the launch pad, and I have to admit I’ve never seen anything quite as cool since.