How did a (mostly) contented grad student running geophysical convection simulations wind up as a gatekeeper between science and the public? In this talk I’ll try to give a sense of what motivates science writers and editors, what exactly it is that we do, how we are navigating the turbulence in the publishing industry, and what it all means for the broader scientific community. I’ll naturally focus on Scientific American and other publications I’ve worked for, but I’ll comment on broader trends and offer thoughts and tips of use not just for writing a magazine article, but for any other writing or communications project you take on. One of the thorniest issues that science journalists face is how to make sense of scientific disagreements and avoid pitfalls such as false balance. I’ll offer some remarks, but I’m also interested in your thoughts and advice for how we journalists might do better.
Biography: George Musser is a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT for 2014–15, and the author of Spooky Action at a Distance (2015) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory (2008). He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2011 Science Writing Award from the American Institute of Physics and 2010 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award from the American Astronomical Society. As Scientific American’s senior editor for space science and fundamental physics for 14 years, he was co-awarded the National Magazine Award in 2003 and 2011. Musser did his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering and mathematics at Brown University and his graduate work in planetary science under Steven Squyres at Cornell University, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow.
"Topological states of quantum matter represent a rapidly developing area of research, where a fascinating variety of exotic phenomena occur..." - Prof. Victor Galitski, Monash University
Topological states of quantum matter represent a rapidly developing area of research, where a fascinating variety of exotic phenomena occur ranging from unusual transport properties, where insulating and metallic behaviors co-exist, to fractionalized excitations that emerge at system’s defects. In this talk I will review recent theoretical and experimental work on a new class of topological material system – topological Kondo insulators, which appear as a result of interplay between strong correlations and spin-orbit interactions. I will start with introducing the by now standard theory of topological band insulators and explain the Fu-Kane method to calculate the topological index for time-reversal-invariant band structures in three dimensions. The method will be used to show that hybridization between the conduction electrons and localized magnetic moments in certain heavy fermion compounds gives rise to interaction-induced topological insulating behavior. I will also discuss recent experimental results, which have confirmed our predictions in the Samarium hexaboride heavy fermion compound, where the long-standing puzzle of the residual low-temperature conductivity has been shown to originate from topological surface states. This material system may represent the first true topological insulator observed experimentally with low-temperature transport dominated by the surface and essentially no conduction in the bulk. In conclusion, I will mention our ongoing experiment-theory collaborative work, which focuses on very unusual non-linear transport properties of Samarium hexaboride, which may be used to engineer new quantum devices.
"The resulting effects could be tested in earth-based interference experiments with atoms, molecules (or photons)." - Dr Magdalena Zych, UQ (EQuS)
Phenomena stemming jointly from quantum theory and general relativity are often thought to be relevant only at high energies and and in strong gravitational fields. Here we consider low-energy quantum systems under weak time dilation and show that the latter leads to novel quantum phenomena. We focus on a quantum version of the “twin paradox’’: where a single a system is brought in superposition of being at two different gravitational potentials. Time dilation in general leads to entanglement between internal degrees of freedom and a position of a composite particle. The resulting effects could be tested in earth-based interference experiments with atoms, molecules (or photons). We further derive that time dilation causes universal decoherence of composite quantum systems, which becomes substantial already for micro-scale objects. Thus far the regime of low-energy composed quantum systems in weak gravitational fields was largely neglected in theoretical research. Our results show that its new phenomena might finally allow testing the interplay between quantum theory and general relativity and can even be relevant for transition to classicality.
"Type Ia Supernovae (SNe Ia) are most famous for being “standard candles” whose uniform brightnesses make them excellent tools for measuring cosmological distances." - Dr Michael Childress (CAASTRO)
Type Ia Supernovae (SNe Ia) are most famous for being “standard candles” whose uniform brightnesses make them excellent tools for measuring cosmological distances. Their use was instrumental in first revealing the accelerating expansion of the Universe in the late 1990s. Since then the details of their astrophysical origin have come under intense scrutiny. Astronomers have investigated whether insight into their astrophysical origin might improve their cosmological utility, and inspected whether their astrophysical diversity could bias cosmological results. In this talk I will summarise the work that has led to the current best understanding for the origin of SNe Ia, then discuss the outstanding questions about SN Ia progenitors and how we might address them in future work.
"It is often thought that the progress of science is accompanied by an inevitable decline in the plausibility and popularity of religious belief." - Prof. Peter Harrison, UQ (Centre for the History of European Discourses)
It is often thought that the progress of science is accompanied by an inevitable decline in the plausibility and popularity of religious belief. In this talk I consider past and present relations between science and religion, and assess the merits of this common view. In the process, I give consideration to key episodes in the history of science, to present controversies over evolution, and to whether the apparent fine-tuning of physical constants has any significant religious implications.