Quantum Fun at the Royal Society

Last week one of our research groups exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science exhibition.  This exhibition runs from Tuesday to Sunday and is attended by thousands of school pupils and members of the public.  The stands cover a wide range of research from quantum physics (ours) to bats to invisibility (well timed with the release of Harry Potter).  About 10 of our academics and PhD students manned the stand and spent a few days explaining the intricacies of quantum physics and quantum computing – and we all had a fantastic time.

Most of the students had never had the chance to explain their research to so many people and relished the opportunity to share their knowledge.  The challenge, of course, comes from the range of abilities – from small children, to A level students, to people working in physics, to adults with no physics knowledge.  Each person comes to the stand with a different understanding and knowledge base and the presenters all learned to adapt their information to each person’s level.

The other, almost harder, challenge is talking about the same thing for six days without boring yourself or losing your voice.  Here I was luckier than most as this is not my area of research and so every day I learnt new things by listening in on the others that I was able to talk about next time.  I’m also used to talking at children all day so my voice was less at risk.  A combination of mint rock sweets with a cat face in (Schrodinger’s cat naturally) and lots of water got everyone through the week intact.

Wednesday and Thursday evening are ‘soiree’ evenings for the Royal Society Fellows and other important guests to attend the exhibition.  Everyone dusted off/hired their best dress/black tie to meet a wide range of interesting scientists with varying knowledge of quantum physics.  I managed to make a small error by not recognising Peter Knight, who is quite a big deal in the world of quantum computing as it turns out and I asked him how much physics he knew.  Could happen to anyone…

Overall it was a great week.  The Royal Society had organised it well, the visitors were all interested an enthusiastic and all the presenters had a great time.  Now to go and lie down in a quiet dark room to stop the chanting about quantum computing in my head.