I made a short movie

Two years ago I had a fantastic experience. It was a 4-day essay film course offered by the Derek Jarman Lab. Jarman Lab is connected to the University of Pittsburgh through its founder Professor Colin Maccabe. They came from London to teach us how to use film as means of communicating research. Everything had to be finished in just four days which also included some lecture time about the essay genre and documentary filmmaking. Through this course I learned a lot, I met amazing people and had a great time.

I chose to make a film about our research process. It is based on reality but it does not correspond to real events. One thing I learned about documentaries is that the director or producer has enormous power to steer or create narrative. This is very different from scientific papers where facts are supposed to be front and center.

I always planned to go back an re-cut my project, tune the sound levels and fix glitches. But I realized that Jarman Lab already have it on their website. So why not share it here?

https://vimeopro.com/user18592354/the-derek-jarman-lab-films-selection/video/270200632

As we were wrapping up, I had no time to add credits. But they are so due! Thanks to my actors Arash Mahboobin, Kelsey Cameron, Lily Ford, Bomin Zhang.

Special effects are by Bartek Dziadosz. Him and Lily were our teachers. They are terrific!

Music in the film is by Devon Tipp, who composed it while thinking about Majorana research. This music project deserves a separate blog post!

A Holiday Fairytale

‘T was the night before Christmas, and a Hannukah night. 
At the same time as Kwanzaa also happened have might… 

Gather round, children, for a tale of a little boy – not five years has he spent on this Earth in grad school. This little boy has been very good, he worked the hardest he could – and by year’s end he has submitted his very first paper to arxiv!

Feeling good, feeling proud – candles lit, blessings said 
He drank milk, brushed his teeth and was headed to bed. 

At this moment of peace and calm – an email arrived! It was from a world famous scientist. The scientist wrote that he read the boy’s paper! “With interest”! Oh! What a wonderful honor – thought the boy – for such a genius, who famously lived in a very tall tower of pure ivory – to have even glanced at my paper! 

The boy continued reading:

“I worked hundreds of years in the same field as you.
And the papers I’ve written are a million and two.
But of them, dear Sir, to my utmost dismight,
Every one, except twenty, you have failed to cite!”

The boy felt terrible. Has he been naughty? Was his h-index two sizes too small? Will he not get presents? Did they even get presents in their religion? He could not sleep. He started adding all the missing citations to his manuscript. 

“I should cite all the others who have worked very hard!”
And his small paper grew… Soon he needed a cart…

But then a magical fairy appeared. “Don’t be sad, I have a spell just for you”. And the fairy hacked into the webcam of famous scientist’s laptop. The scientist was typing and typing frantically. He was sending emails to all the people who posted their papers on arxiv that day.

“You see my dear friend” the fairy told “citations are not a form of respect, and they are not for giving credit. They are a tool to help understand the paper better. Excessive citing can make little readers confused, because they wouldn’t know which papers they should look up.”

The boy thought long and hard. He decided that the famous scientist is probably very lonely in his tall ivory tower. And the boy invited him to give a talk at their monthly graduate student seminar. The scientist agreed because there were cookies, hot chocolate and marshmallows.

University of Pittsburgh Physics ranked #1 in the world

Much has been said about the utmost vital need to be highly ranked. All sorts of important people, from prospective students to governments, take note of the one number to which your program is distilled by a prestigious, serious and rigorous ranking agency. At Pitt we did not enjoy particularly high rankings so far, which made us very-very sad.

Until today when we got a shot of awesome news – not only are we ranked high, but we are NUMBER ONE, in the WORLD (In the Universe most likely for that matter).

University of Pittsburgh Physics and Astronomy Department was ranked first in the world for the quality of coffee from a department coffee machine.

To the skeptics out there who might be wondering – how has this ranking been established? The same way as the US News report ranks graduate schools – we asked a few people. The US News survey department chairs in your discipline (let’s say physics) from US universities “name top physics/condensed matter/particle/astro graduate programs”. Some of them, maybe 30%, reply, and they do some math (likely addition and division) with those numbers, then they publish them for everyone to contemplate and make their life choices. So the ranking of graduate schools is based on the opinions of a few people who likely never been to most schools, haven’t seen their labs, haven’t read their papers, didn’t talk to their faculty and students…

Inspired by this great system, we did the same. We asked. We did not have time to ask all department chairs in the country, since we only had the idea this morning, so we just asked ourselves. But we’ve been to MANY departments. And we drank their coffee. And we are definitely number one, in physics, in this category.

(If you include other departments, e.g. chemistry, we would probably have to yield to the University of Oregon, though we are still to visit. If you include regular coffee shops, some of which are in the Physics buildings, we will probably also go down in ranking, quite far. If you ask department chairs to rank coffee machines, and then average their replies, you will get Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Caltech etc.)

Faculty position in Quantum at Pitt

Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department at Pitt has just announced an assistant professor search in the area of nanoscale electronics & photonics with emphasis on quantum computing.

ECE is across the street from Physics, and while this position will be the first in the quantum field for Pitt engineers, a successful candidate will be working next to a thriving cluster of quantum physics research at Pitt, as well as at nearby Carnegie Mellon University. With two state-of-the-art cleanroom facilities, supercomputers, and hopefully several more subsequent hires in quantum computing across the two campuses.

Applications are due by Jan. 7, 2019, although candidates will continue to be considered until positions are filled. Please submit a CV, research and teaching statements, and contact information for at least three references, all in a single PDF file, to ecesearch-TS@pitt.edu.

New equipment has arrived!

Labs get a lot of equipment when they just get set up. If you scroll back in this blog you will see how over the course of several years we went from an empty room to an entangled maze of pumping lines, cables and wires held in place by copious quantities of duct tape. But once a lab has been set up, and the startup funds have run out, a stationary period commences – and it can last for a loooong-long time, until the original stuff starts to break down.

Well, not the case in our brave lab! We just got a piece of equipment which inspired us to work harder, put idiotic smiles on our faces, started numerous stimulating discussions and is just generally awesome.

Here it is:

I am talking, of course, about our new bottomless portafilter. A portafilter is a holder with a black handle where you load and tamp ground coffee in order to extract espresso. A ‘bottomless’ portafilter has the nozzle on the bottom machined off so that you can see with your own eyes how espresso is formed, whether liquid is uniformly going through the basket or gushing through a crack in your puck, whether there is a lot of crema and so on. This has improved the quality of our espresso truly to the 3rd generation coffee shop level, and it has already improved the skills of our baristas-in-training.

Oh… and we have also received two additional dilution refrigerators, but I suppose that deserves a separate blog post.

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