Category Archives: science life

Qubit

I’ve run my first quantum computation!

Since I was working on the latest iteration of classical computer manufacturing techniques (EUV lithography), everyone asked me what were my thought on the future of Moore’s law, and what did I think about quantum computing. To the first question, I could mumble things about transistor size and the fact that we’re getting awfully close to the atomic size; to the latter question… I just had to go figure out myself!

Back in April, I’ve invited Irfan Siddiqi (qnl.berkeley.edu), founding director of the brand new Center for Quantum Coherent Science, and his postdocs at Berkeley lab to give a talk to postdocs, and last the lab announced the first 45-qubits quantum simulations on the NERSC… things are going VERY fast! (read the Quantum manifesto)

Kevin O'Brien on multiplexing qubit readouts

Kevin O’Brien on multiplexing qubit readouts

This is thanks to Rigetti, a full-stack quantum computer startup based in Berkeley (Wired, IEEE Spectrum).

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Open Access

My article for the Berkeley Science Review on Open Access is out, and it is available here (for free, of course!): Science to the people.

“Astronomers and physicists have been sharing pre-prints since before the web existed,” says Alberto Pepe, founder of the authoring and pre-printing platform Authorea. “Pre-prints are an effective (and fully legal) way to make open access a reality in all scholarly fields.” Within hours, articles are available online, and scientists can interact with the author, leaving comments and feedback. Importantly, submission, storage, and access are all free. The pre-printing model ensures that an author’s work is visible and properly indexed by a number of tools, such as Google Scholar.

Special thanks to Rachael Samberg from thee UC Library and Alberto Pepe from Authorea.

Things seems to change quickly in that field, thanks to institutional efforts:

Here’s a list of resources that I’ve compiled from the talk by Laurence Bianchini from MyScienceWork when I invited at LBL, and a piece written by Nils Zimmerman on Open Access at LBNL: Open Access publishing at Berkeley Lab.

Farewell to BPEP!

Yesterday, I’ve organized my last event with the Berkeley Postdoc Entrepreneurial Program (bpep.berkeley.edu), an association dedicated to helping young researchers turning their science into companies that can benefit the economy directly. I served for about two years as the liaison for Berkeley Lab, and helped organize over a dozen events, directly responsible for four of them (on government funding, intellectual property, the art of pitch, and lastly a job fair.)

BPEP team with UC Berkeley vice-chancellor for reasearch, Paul Alivisatos

BPEP team with UC Berkeley vice-chancellor for research, Paul Alivisatos

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Ubris

Living in the Bay Area has a lots of perks, notably the climate and the people who live here– some are driven, and some maybe too much.

The Silicon Valley became fertile and successful when entrepreneurs started bringing hardcore scientific advances to the masses, with companies such as Fairchild Semiconductors, or innovative technologies, with companies such as Xerox and its Palo Alto Research Center.

Nowadays, the silicon in the valley is mostly gone (I often joke that among my friends living in the Silicon Valley, I am the only one actually working on silicon… yet I don’t live in the valley:), and tech companies that have nothing to do with actual τέχνη. Yet the dreams of technology to save us all are still pretty alive. But it seems that it all has to do with hubris, or PR at best, and it is hurting actual science and those who make it.

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China on the rise

Maybe the info was lost on all the news that trump the attention, but China has been involved with serious business in science recently. From a stage where the industry would produce with high-efficiency but with minor innovation. The country are now paving the way forward.

A few recent examples this year are pretty telling. The first one would be the launch of a set of satellites designed to study quantum encryption over long distances. Apparently, this project was proposed by leading German scientist Anton Zeilinger to the European Union, but never got through (update Oct 28th, 2016 : Now there’s a event a 2000km quantum link project underway in China. Wow!)

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Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association

Dear reader,

I haven’t been very communicative lately, for I was kept busy by a very cool new venture : the birth of the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association. The new association is meant to bring together over a thousand postdocs at Berkeley Lab, and provide them with support, career advice and bring feedback to the lab management about issues encountered by postdocs.logo_blpaNow that the association is alive and well (see the blog), I can tell a little about its story.

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Wanted : science tools for the digital age

The internet may still be less than 10,000-days old, it still fails to deliver for scientists.

By empowering institutions to efficiently track down the number of publications, pushing even further the drive to publish many half-baked ideas and follow the hype instead of long-term research. It is true that it had never been as simple to get access to a paper and makes life easier on many aspects– collaboration often just requires sending an email, but new hurdles have appeared, and these should be removed.05e2e400dd1165870b3787a527e4e753Here is a bunch of ideas on how to use the new digital tools we have at hand to make research easier and thus more efficient, and a limited overview of what we have now. Continue reading

Cyclotron Valley

I wrote a feature article for the Fall issue of the Berkeley Science Review (BSR) about the resources available for PhDs when they want to turn their research into companies.

Here it is : Cyclotron Valley

Cyclotron Valley (intial design)

One of the proposed cover designed (credit: Indrasen Bhattacharya)

Both research and entrepreneurship also require another crucial skill—flexibility. The academic must choose from many potential research paths and be prepared to alter his or her plans when experiments predictably don’t work. In the parlance of Silicon Valley, this is known as the pivot—an attempt to assess the validity of your current direction and then use that knowledge to devise another idea that works better.

This is part of my involvement with the Berkeley Postdoc Entrepreneurial Program (BPEP), the first association promoting entrepreneurship among skilled researchers, run by volunteers.

edit 12/20/15 : I’ve just read The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato. Quite interesting discussion on the (true) origin of innovation. Here’s a video that roughly summarizes the book.

Crisper

The other day, I had the chance to stumble on Jennifer Doudna in Stanley Hall… And I asked her for a drawing !

Jennifer Doudna's drawing

Jennifer Doudna’s drawing

Jennifer Doudna is well-known for her discovery, with her postdoc Martin Jinek and Emmauelle Charpentier, of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, that allows live gene editing.

It might not seem that crazy, but it’s a total game changer (Radiolab had a good story about it recently). The thing is that until now, to modify the genes, one had to change the germ cell and create a new living being : an already existing being could not have its DNA reprogrammed. But now, you can cure genetic diseases and target specific genes that you would like to change (I don’t know if you can change the colors of your eyes by that process, but who really cares ?)

This of course brings a lot of ethical questions that they try to tackle— I can’t help but to  imagine how terrible a biological weapon targeting a population through specific would be.

For her work, DouDNA and Charpentier were awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Science, a prestigious prize put together by Yuri Milner and others. She will probably be promoted to my Nobel Prize list soon:)

edit November 10th :

No Nobel Prize this year, but another Breakthrough prize, from optogenetics !
Watch the related Breakthrough Symposium talks
And another piece in the New Yor Times : the CRISPR quandary.

Lost in space

Recently, I’ve been trying to invite Elon Musk to Berkeley using unconventional means. I would like him to have a public conversation with my colleagues (and Nobel Prize laureates) George Smoot and Saul Perlmutter. It didn’t work, but I’ve gotten some pretty cool pictures !

Smoot's invitation

George Smoot handing out an invitation to Elon Musk

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