After attending the US-China Young Physicists forum, I participated in the annual March meeting of the American Physical Society (APS). The March meeting is a huge event - there are order 10,000 attendees, and there are many, many parallel sessions of speakers. In fact, the event is so large the APS provides you with the ability to put together your own schedule through their site - it’s essentially impossible to keep track of what’s going on otherwise!
Today’s highlights include:
- Listening to a Forum on Research in Industrial Physics
As far as professional development is concerned, I think it important to keep an open mind with respect to working in the private sector (as opposed to working in a university setting). To that end, I attended the forum on working in the industrial physics space. Surprisingly, I learned the US graduates about 1,600 Ph.D. students per year (including foreign nationals), but that the number of tenure-track positions is not just less than that, but not really growing. So there’s not really enough room in academia for all the graduates, meaning looking towards the private sector is a wise thing to do.
- Hearing about Superconducting Qubits from John Martinis
The Martinis group at UCSB recently established a collaboration with Google to work on superconducting qubit technology. Martinis demonstrated the ability to detect and correct bit flip errors using the qubit surface code.
- Learning about the Helium supply problem in the US
I had heard a while ago there was a problem with the supply of helium for academic use. At this talk, I learned what the situation was. Apparently there is nontrivial helium output from natural gas wells - first discovered in 1903 - for which the National Helium Reserve was set up to store. Around 1960, the federal government began the process of arranging to buy helium from private companies to add to the Reserve. This eventually lead the reserve to go into debt, prompting Congress to pass a bill in 1996 calling for the Reserve to sell off its helium supplies. Unfortunately, the Reserve is set to run out of helium around 2018. This is problematic for academic users insofar as the quantity of helium they require for experiments is substantially less than that for industry. Therefore, it can be difficult to achieve the necessary “clout” to get private suppliers to bring helium when required. This leads to experiments being ruined - literally, there is not enough coolant to run them. So the APS is working to help ensure academic users of helium are able to receive the quantities they require.