SciBarCamp – Part 1

SciBarCamp was a delight—a smörgåsbord of interesting people and tantalizing ideas. I look forward to the next one.

It all started on Friday, March 14. I drove up to Toronto in the afternoon, intent on seeing the Darwin exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (including the letter which invited him to take a voyage on the Beagle). Alas, it was free-admission Friday on the last weekday of March break, so there was a lineup of kids and parents that went around the block. I decided to go to Hart House early, which was fortuitous, as I got to meet the organisers: Eva Amsen, Jen Dodd and Jamie McQuay. The SciBarCamp “advisors” Michael Nielsen and Karl Schroeder were there too. (Lee Smolin was also an advisor but wasn’t there yet.)

Hart House
Hart House

Hart House, a public space for students and faculty at the U of Toronto

People started trickling in. Before long, the Debates Room was nearly full. One thing that stands out in my memory was playing with an actual, live OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) computer. Ryan Kelln had brought one because he’s developing a game for it.

OLPC
OLPC

The organisers got things started with thanks to the sponsors and some administrative stuff. Then we went around the room with everyone saying a few sentences about themselves. There were over 100 people so it took a while. The variety was exciting: musicians, physicists, visual artists, coders, biologists, entrepreneurs, science fiction authors… and at least one poet!

Anyone with an idea for a talk, discussion or performance could fill in a piece of paper and post it on the wall. We all went around and put check marks on the ones that interested us. Meanwhile, there was a cash bar and lots of interesting people to meet!

Saturday, March 15

The main room for Saturday was different because some other group had the Debates Room. The first session I went to was a discussion led by John Dupuis (Head of the Steacie Science & Engineering Library at York University in Toronto) and Corie Lok (editor of Nature Network Boston). They talked about using tools like del.icio.us, Connotea and wikis in science. Much of the discussion revolved around methods and motives for using electronic notebooks (or wikis) to record all the details of the scientific process, like the way Jean-Claude Bradley’s lab does with their chemistry experiments.

Then Daniel Gottesman, a theoretical physicist from the Perimeter Institute, gave a talk titled “Quantum Mechanics for 10-year-olds.” He gave one of the nicest illustrations of a quantum bit that I’ve seen—a musical note which has two properties: tone (pitch) and length (duration). Tone can take one of two values: low or high. Length can take one of two values: short or long. If you measure the tone, then you can no longer predict the outcome of measuring the length. And vice versa. Lots of questions followed! Later that day, I got a chance to ask him how they model the state space of a quantum bit. He explained how each possible state can be thought of as a point on the surface of a sphere (which I later found out is called the “Bloch sphere”).

Glass sphere
Glass sphere

(Continued in Part 2.)

Photo Credits:  A buffet-style restaurant in Chiba Sogo by Yusuke Kawasaki on Flickr, Hart House by Ivanx on Flickr, OLPC in da house by Nathan Boror on Flickr, Sphere in French Canyon by Crystl on Flickr. All are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.