Quantum cats, could science have shortened WW1, and Lawrence Krauss

Australian Institute of Physics, Australian Institute of Physics Congress, Media releases
  • Picking endangered parrots out from the dawn chorus
  • Could maths and science have shortened WW1?
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Nobel-winning photon-juggler replaces Schrödinger’s cat

These topics and more on the final day of the national physics conference, Thursday 11 December

Picking endangered parrots out from the dawn chorus

For the first time, artificial sound recognition is matching the abilities of the human ear. A ‘universal’ sound recogniser isn’t restricted to only recognising music, or only recognising speech. It can be set to recognise any sound, or any group of sounds. Neil Boucher’s sound-recognition system can pick a dozen different birdsongs from the cacophony of a dawn chorus, and is being used to track the movement of one of the world’s rarest species—the endangered orange-bellied parrot in Tasmania. But the system has also been used to monitor whale calls, the pulsing sonar ‘ping’ of bats, and frog calls.

Sonar: could maths and science have shortened WW1?

The First World War saw the stuttering beginnings of modern military physics. In secret, the British were operating the largest military science project to date. The first combined military-civilian research project, a team of a thousand scientists including Nobel laureates Ernest Rutherford and William Bragg, was working on a sonar system to detect enemy submarines. Working sonar rigs were being attached to British ships by the end of the war, by which time 5000 ships and 15,000 lives had been lost to German U-boats. University of Queensland physicist Timo Nieminen has studied the physics of WWI, both successful and unsuccessful, and links from this to the much more resourced, more famous Manhattan Project of WWII.

Lawrence Krauss on gravity waves, climate sceptics, religion, Star Trek, anything…

  • Laurence Krauss doubts complicated theories of the Universe that require ten or eleven dimensions
  • On climate change sceptics in government: “the public is ill-served by politicians who ignore empirical evidence while making and speaking out on policy”
  • Science-fiction fan and author of The Physics of Star Trek, believes sci-fi can expand kids’ minds, inspire them to love science—and, incidentally, set them free from the binds of religion
  • Believes religion could disappear in a generation, and has suggested that when religion is taught in schools it’s “as a bunch of interesting historical anecdotes, to show the silly reasons that they did what they did”
  • Has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, narrating Gustav Holst’s The Planets

Letting the quantum cat out of the box

French Nobel laureate Serge Haroche is exploring the peculiar quantum world, in which Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. But instead of a cat in a box, he’s trapping photons between superconducting mirrors—and finding things are just as weird as expected. Prof Haroche received the Dirac Medal on Tuesday and gave the 2014 Dirac Public Lecture at UNSW: ‘The beauty and serendipity of blue sky research’. The Dirac Medal has been awarded by UNSW and the Australian Institute of Physics since 1979.