I filed my dissertation this morning; I am now Dr. Arcane Gazebo. (Well, technically the degree isn't conferred until Thursday when the semester ends, but whatever.)
The main result of the entire thesis comes down to a single plot, shown below. This isn't the "explain my thesis" post so I'll just say that the plot shows our ability to control the coupling energy between two qubits by applying a bias current to our readout device, hence the thesis title Solid-State Qubits with Current-Controlled Coupling. The solid curves are calculations based on device parameters and the dashed curves are one-parameter fits.
Now these points of data make a beautiful line...
If anyone needs me this evening, I'll be at Triple Rock.
Webcomics continue to be too accurate with the latest sequence at PhD Comics. Of course, Jorge Cham's humor has always ranged from "funny because close to home" to "not funny because too close to home". This year the strips in the latter category have been especially well-timed: the series linked above, for example, comes not just when I'm in the same situation, but the week of Cal's major Career Fair. (Identifying other examples is left as an exercise for the reader.)
Anyway, the career fair starts tomorrow; the fraction of recruiters looking for physics PhDs is indeed pretty low (as would be expected for a general campus career fair) but nonzero. (There's an event specifically targeted at masters and PhDs next month.) I'll be attending with copies of my resume in hand, hoping to get someone's attention or, failing that, pick up some good swag. Any advice for this sort of thing?
This was my Project 365 photo for Tuesday, but I wanted to do a blog post on it as well.
The attic of Berkeley's main physics building resembles nothing so much as an inert and dusty version of the Jawa caravan in Star Wars. Filled with vintage '70s/'80s (and older) electronics and cryogenic equipment, it contains the history of decades of cutting-edge research, now consigned to storage. Also, annoyingly elusive items that have to be accounted for in the annual lab inventory.
I was up here Tuesday afternoon looking for a particular frequency synthesizer that LBL's records say we own. It turns out there is a frequency sythesizer up here, in among our group's poorly-delineated junk pile, but it is a slightly different model (presumably with a bad motivator). I didn't find the instrument I was looking for, but did take a few pictures, which all turned out blurry since there was hardly any light and the camera couldn't acquire focus.
Perhaps the most unusual instrument is the one that's musical rather than scientific: an old organ sitting in the corner, presumably for aspiring Phantoms of the Opera.
Both UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and and UC President Dynes are members of the physics department. This is perhaps good for departmental prestige but also draws protestors. Yesterday a rally for higher custodial wages made a stop at Birge Hall. (In fact, neither Dynes or Birgeneau are typically in the physics buildings--the only time I've seen Birgeneau in the department was the day Smoot won the Nobel.)
Not pictured: my office window, which is two windows to the right of the frame. I was down in the lab at the time, and missed it.
UCB cosmologist George Smoot won the Nobel Prize for Physics today, for his discovery of anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background. He shares the prize with John Mather of NASA Goddard. Here's Berkeley's press release, the Nobel press release, and the AP article.
UPDATE: This, of course, was the Science: It Works, Bitches measurement whose data appeared in xkcd.
UPDATE II: Other bloggers writing about the prize: Sean at Cosmic Variance, Chad at Uncertain Principles, Steinn at Dynamics of Cats, Stefan at Backreaction, Andrew Jaffe, Rob Knop at Galactic Interactions, Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science (whose mother worked with COBE and shares some anecdotes).
Maybe I'll try to get some pictures at the champagne reception later today...
UPDATE III: From the physics department reception, when Smoot is asked to make some remarks (this is paraphrased):
Smoot: I've been making statements all day... but now I can say what I'm really thinking, because there's no press.
[Berkeley Chancellor] Birgeneau: There's always press.
Smoot: Yeah, I'm worried about bloggers.
Wouldn't want to disappoint... I did forget my camera, though.
Newsweek has an article on the gender gap in science, and looks at Berkeley's physics department in particular:
To get a sense of how women have progressed in science, take a quick tour of the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley. This is a storied place, the site of some of the most important discoveries in modern science—starting with Ernest Lawrence's invention of the cyclotron in 1931. A generation ago, female faces were rare and, even today, visitors walking through the first floor of LeConte Hall will see a full corridor of exhibits honoring the many distinguished physicists who made history here, virtually all of them white males.
But climb up to the third floor and you'll see a different display. There, among the photos of current faculty members and students, are portraits of the current chair of the department, Marjorie Shapiro, and four other women whose research covers everything from the mechanics of the universe to the smallest particles of matter. A sixth woman was hired just two weeks ago. Although they're still only about 10 percent of the physics faculty, women are clearly a presence here. And the real hope may be in the smaller photos to the right: graduate and undergraduate students, about 20 percent of them female. Every year Berkeley sends freshly minted female physics doctorates to the country's top universities. That makes Shapiro optimistic, but also realistic. "I believe things are getting better," she says, "but they're not getting better as fast as I would like."
Overall the description of Berkeley is positive; they highlight some of the female researchers here and mention policies that the campus is undertaking to improve the situation.
A National Academy of Sciences panel on women in science finds:
For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minority groups are “virtually absent,” it adds.
The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”
The panel included UC Berkeley's chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and the late UCSC chancellor Denice Denton, who committed suicide recently, had also been on the panel before her death.
Back in March we had a pretty good comment thread on this subject.
This was on BoingBoing about a week ago, but I didn't see it then—the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley is having a pirate film festival through September and October. Not pirated films, but films about piracy, mostly the arrr, matey! kind (the last installment is an exception). Inconveniently for me, the movies are being shown on Wednesday nights.
Gordon Watts and Chad Orzel have some thoughts on qualifying exam season. This confused me until I realized that what other departments call the qual is what Berkeley's physics department calls the preliminary exam. Incoming grad students take the written prelims as soon as they arrive: these are a pair of six-hour exams given on consecutive Saturdays, one on classical physics and one on modern physics. After passing the written exams, one then takes the oral prelims which are an additional two hours (again divided evenly between classical and modern). One must pass the whole fourteen-hour suite before joining a research group.
This is every bit as stressful as the links above describe; the grading is set up so that only about two-thirds of the students pass each round, and officially you only get three tries. (In fact, almost everyone passes by the third attempt.) I don't really have any advice for the written portion, but for the orals I had my faculty mentor give me a practice run that was incredibly helpful (especially since I got asked many of the same questions in the actual exam).
We do have something called a qualifying exam; it's a two-hour oral exam set up on an individual basis, and meant to be taken after two years in research. The first hour is a presentation by the student of a proposed topic for the dissertation, and the second hour is an exam on the subfield relevant to this research. As it happens, I will be taking the qual "soon". Some of you may note that I have been doing research for four years, and have been about to take the qual for two years now. Indeed, it is quite common for students to put off the qual until just before writing the dissertation, where the "proposal" actually becomes a presentation of results. Most departments call this the "thesis defense".
On the other hand, we don't have a thesis defense, so it all evens out in the end.
While we toil away on our experiments in Birge Hall, the works of our mathematical colleagues in neighboring Evans become ever more mysterious.
The Sarong Theorem Archive: This page is an electronic archive of images of people proving theorems while wearing sarongs.
So what theorem would you choose when preparing a photo for this page? I would go with the proof of the error bound on Simpson's Rule, but I should give Mason first dibs on that.
Via Bitch, Ph.D.
As announced here earlier, Pretty Girls Make Graves played at UC Berkeley tonight. This was extremely convenient, since I could leave the lab at 8:50 and be early for the 9:00 show. I expected it to be out on Lower Sproul Plaza, but in fact it was inside: good insofar as I didn't freeze to death, bad since the acoustics are terrible in the Bear's Lair food court. A punk band called the Sweet Nothings opened; I was not impressed, especially not by their closer, which was a reprehensible punk cover of "Eye of the Tiger".
Fortunately, PGMG made up for it. They played five songs from their upcoming album Elan Vital, which I am now very eagerly anticipating— all the new stuff is very good. The rest of the set was drawn from The New Romance except for their final song, "Speakers Push The Air" from Good Health. Unfortunately one of their guitarists has left the band, so we were deprived of what one critic aptly called "knife-fight guitar solos", but new keyboardist Leona Marrs was very good, and also played the accordion on one of the new songs. Lead singer Andrea Zollo is just as awesome as she sounds on the recordings.
The first song they played was "The Nocturnal House" from Elan Vital, which can be downloaded for free at their label's website. The other four new songs were even better than this. Intruigingly, on the last new song the bassist switched to vocals, the drummer switched to bass, and the guitarist switched to saxophone. However, their best song in the live show is also their best recording: "Something Bigger, Something Brighter" from The New Romance.
Since the Stars show last Friday, this has been quite a good week musically speaking. The setlist for tonight's show is below the fold (to the best of my recollection, I may have the order slightly wrong).
UPDATE: Filled in the missing song titles in the setlist now that I have Élan Vital.Continue reading "Pretty Girls Make Graves, on my doorstep"
While the East Coast is buried in snow and Southern California struggles under a scorching heat wave, it's been 65 and sunny all week here in Berkeley. And we'll get the same weather in July. With this kind of climate, one might expect that the heating and air conditioning needs of a campus building like Birge Hall would be pretty minimal. And indeed, through efficient design the building is maintained at a pleasant environment with hardly any energy.
Ha! I'm joking, of course. What they actually do here is run the heating and the air conditioning at the same time so that they cancel out. I only discovered this fact this week, when the heat pump broke—leaving the air conditioning running unchecked. Naturally there's no way to adjust it, and so I end up carrying a sweater to lab with me, so that after walking through perfect weather to get there I can bundle up when I enter the building and avoid freezing to death.
Somehow, you'd think a physics building would have a more efficient solution to the problem of temperature control, but maybe it's a corollary to the fact that the architecture building is always the ugliest building on campus. It brings to mind a common method of temperature control in condensed matter physics: cool the sample down to 4.2K with liquid helium, and then use an electric heating element to warm it back up to the desired temperature. But I'm not sure it scales up as well as the designers of Birge Hall's HVAC system seem to believe.
This is a public service announcement for the Berkeley-area readers: the excellent band Pretty Girls Make Graves will be playing a free show on Lower Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, on February 16. They would be a great band to see two days earlier if you are single and bitter, but they're playing Moscow, Idaho on that day so that's not so helpful.
I almost wish I didn't know about this, so I could have the experience of walking through Sproul on the 16th and thinking, "Hey, that sounds like PGMG... holy shit!" But more likely I'd just miss it entirely if I didn't know about it, so it's probably better this way.
The semester started this week at Cal, which means very little to me except that I am back to the social ballroom dance classes. Tonight's class was East Coast Swing. Now, I have made several prior attempts to learn swing dancing, and in the process it's possible that I made negative remarks about dancing in general, swing in particular, and my estimated abilities to do either. I hereby retract all such remarks I may or may not have made. Swing is awesome.
This made my day yesterday: the Mario question blocks distributed around the UC Berkeley campus.
This one is at Sather Gate. There was another hanging from a tree by Wheeler Hall, but it either fell or was taken (or somebody jumped and hit it with his head, and then took the item).
The University of California, in partnership with Bechtel, has held on to the contract for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
1. I'm surprised the UC won the contract, given the recent political attacks on their management of LANL. However, I didn't know about the Bechtel partnership, which was undoubtedly a deciding factor. I don't know much about Bechtel, except that they're one of those huge corporations that always seems vaguely sinister.
2. Would the UC have been better off without managing LANL? Certainly there's some prestige that goes with it, but lately it seems more trouble than it's worth, with the UC having to fend off mostly trumped-up charges of financial irregularities and security breaches. Meanwhile, paranoia over these things is making life more annoying for those of us connected with other UC managed labs. (And I only have to deal with LBL, which is an unclassified lab—I'm sure it's even worse at Livermore or LANL itself.)
This item is a bit dated, but apparently there's a prize for "oddest book title" awarded every year:
Rick Pelicano and Lauren Tjaden's extremely serious manual on how to Bombproof Your Horse is today hailed as runaway winner of the prize for the oddest book title of the past year.
It takes what the Bookseller magazine describes as a staggering 46% of the vote in a poll of publishers and booksellers.
Runners-up in a shortlisted international field of six are Detecting Foreign Bodies in Food, with 27%, followed by The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox, with 15%.
The British-based Diagram prize - a magnum of champagne awarded by the Bookseller since 1978 - reflects the book trade's unceasing bafflement and delight at the highly specialised titles which some of its members in Britain and further afield produce.
Also on the 2004 shortlist were Applications of High Tech Squids (VCH Verlagsgesellschaft), Equids in Time and Space (Oxbow Books) and Sexual Health at Your Fingertips (Class Publishing).
My advisor was profiled in the latest issue of ScienceMatters@Berkeley, an online UCB publication written by Boing Boing's David Pescovitz. Most of you know about my work on the qubit project; the ScienceMatters article also covers some of the other research in the group.
UPDATE: It's pretty cool to see one of our figures on Boing Boing, even if it is from the (admittedly more photogenic) MRI project rather than the qubit research.
1. What kind of comment spammer only posts links to Google? Someone was seriously posting these all over some recent threads this morning. Testing out new spamming software maybe? I'm mystified.
2. Even my UC Berkeley spam is now advertising Texas Hold 'em. Next they'll be trying to sell me herbal viagra.
3. I worry about the search engine traffic I'm going to get once Google indexes this post.