Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stephen Hawking @ Caltech

I am looking forward to Stephen Hawking's lecture, entitled, "Out of a Black Hole" on April 9th in Beckman Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology. You can find a detailed description here. I still remember holding and reading the first chapter of his "Brief History of Time" back in grade nine in high school. Soon after that I wrote a letter to him and one of his graduate students send me a packet full of his technical papers on wormholes and black hole radiation. I could not understand a single line, but I marveled at the complicated-looking equations. And now I am working in quantum information theory, many, many years later.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Computer Scientist Lost Amidst 7,000 Physicists!

"Transition" (lots of background noise, and a brief moment later), "gap" - well these were just a few words that I heard at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter a couple of nights ago while I was scarfing down some delicious begniets with my friend Mark who happens to be a New Orleans native. Why was I in the French quarter, you ask? I was attending the biggest physics conference organized by the American Physical Society - the 2008 annual March meeting (March 10 - 14).

I arrived in New Orleans with a colleague around eleven on Sunday night and I was lucky to be staying at Mark's parent's home for the duration of the conference. I presented a paper on how to encode a logical qubit into six physical qubits that I recently wrote up with four other colleagues. Mark Wilde presented his latest research on entanglement-assisted convolutional codes, and Martin Varbanov talked about hitting times on graphs with continuous walks. One of my colleagues, Ognyan Oreshkov was supposed to give a talk but he was unable to attend for he is working hard on writing up his dissertation. Fortunately Todd Brun took over and presented Ognyan's results on "Robustness of Operator Quantum Error Correction With Respect to Initialization Errors." The session on quantum error-correction was chaired by Lorenza Viola and I think she did a great job in time-managing the session. Each talk was scheduled for just ten minutes with two minutes of Q & A. Giving a talk in twelve minutes is hard and it is even harder when you have quite a lot to say. At one point during the talk I felt like words from my mouth were coming out faster than bullets from the barrel of a machine gun.

There were many parallel sessions going on throughout the week. The session that I found most interesting was on gravity and quantum information, where John Preskill talked about his new paper with Patrick Hayden on black hole physics and quantum information. Unfortunately due to Mark and Martin's late night partying I was not able to make it to Dave Bacon's talk on
"Quantum Computational Complexity in the Presence of Closed Timelike Curves." I am sure his talk must have been witty, insightful, funny and entertaining in the usual Dave Baconesque spirit. If you are interested, you can find the talk here. The talk IS entitled "crazytalk.ppt", so the reader is forewarned!

I also ran into an old friend, Matt Shaw, with whom I took quantum mechanics a few years ago. For some reason people kept asking whether we were brothers or related somehow. He has blond hair, blue eyes, while I have black hair and brown eyes, so at the end of the conference I was convinced that he and I were related. One of the highlights of the week was listening to Dixie-land jazz in Preservation Hall. The ticket was $10.00, the room very small with wood flooring, the panels to the entrance scratched with paint peeling off, and the air soaking with the "Big n' Easy" New Orleans attitude.

Between the jazz, Cajun food, stimulating talks, and wholesome family atmosphere at Mark's place, this conference was by far one of the best that I have attended in my life.