By Skylar Cohen
Many members of the Stanford community came to an event called “Teleportation” last December. The event featured Tongcang Li, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, who discussed his work in quantum superposition, or having an entity simultaneously exist in two locations.
The event was organized by Anna Chukaeva, a first year student at the Graduate School of Business, and Evgeny Duhovny, a local graphic artist and DJ. The two have begun organizing campus events in conjunction with ArtSoFFT, a local group (not affiliated with Stanford). Driven by a desire to popularize and spread a love of science, the group has begun organizing a series of events at Stanford featuring scientists discussing their work.
“What we were looking [for] was a researcher who has published in the scientific journals — so it’s not just someone who is popularizing it. We wanted a real scientist who is doing work in this field, and who is doing breakthrough technology,” Chukaeva said.
For this event, Chukaeva and Duhovny reached out to Li. Li has been doing research into the idea of quantum superposition, the concept of having the same object exist in two different places. Li has done work of this nature with atoms, and has recently begun to consider doing the same with bacteria.
“At the beginning I worked with coated atoms — laser-coated atoms,” Li said via an email statement. “So then I tried to make the object larger and larger. About one year ago I really started thinking about [working] to create a superposition of a living organism.”
Both this and ArtSoFFT’s first event received a lot of interest in the community. The Facebok event page gained 799 “interested” individuals. The event was held at the Graduate Community Center.
“We didn’t expect, like, 500 people to get immediately interested in that [the invisibility event], but that’s what happened” Chukaeva said. “And then on the [teleportation event page] it was closer to 800 interested, which suggested all these things are quite exciting for a lot of people.”
Despite the initial online reaction, some attendees were disappointed. Some students arrived expecting an actual demonstration, only to find a lecture instead.
“The way the Facebook event was set up, it seemed like the invited professor would be doing an actual demonstration of real teleportation of some living organism,” wrote Christopher Yeh ’18, one of the attendees, in an email to The Daily. “I was basically expecting to get my mind blown,” he added.
The talk was only about 20 minutes long, according to Li, but a 90-minute question-and-answer session followed his talk. Chukaeva noted that the room was completely filled, with attendees sitting on the floor, but there appeared to be a disconnect between the complexity of Li’s discussion and the science background of his audience.
“He [Li] tried really hard to make analogies and explain the concepts, but in the short 30 minutes that he had, it simply wasn’t enough time,” Yeh wrote.
Yeh explained how the audience’s focus on a fictitious understanding of teleportation devalued the real scientific discussion.
“A lot of audience members also asked some ridiculous questions afterwards completely unrelated to Dr. Li’s actual research,” Yeh said. “Several people also fell asleep during the presentation.”
The Facebook event was titled “Teleportation,” but an article from the British newspaper The Guardian describing Li’s work never used the word teleportation. The more accurate term quantum was superposition.
In a statement to The Daily via email, Li noted that the superposition state of an object can be used to measure the gravitational field.
“When an object is at two locations at the same time, it is very sensitive to the external field (e.g. gravitational field) that is slightly different at the two locations,” Li wrote. “So it can be used to measure the external field.”
According to Yeh, the hosts seemed to have a very different idea for the applications of Li’s work.
“It seemed like the host of the event didn’t really understand anything that Dr. Li said, and he [the host] started asking questions like, ‘Would we be able to teleport humans in the next 20 years?’ even though Dr. Li had clearly mentioned during the presentation that what he has accomplished thus far is still very distant from actual teleportation of anything on a macroscopic scale,” Yeh wrote.
Going forward, Chukaeva and Duhovny want to hold events on a monthly basis, inviting scientists from around the world to participate. Chukaeva noted that the event was not sufficiently science-intensive for some attendants, while too science-dense for others.
Chukaeva believes that a better balance can be found by holding more events. The group is currently preparing to hold another event about the nature of consciousness and the possibility that a collective consciousness is shared between individuals.
“We want to communicate how exciting this science is, and you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist to pursue it and enjoy it,” Chukaeva said.
Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’ stanford.edu.