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Nobel Prize Winner’s Talk

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Nobel Prize Winner's Talk (A New Kilogram Next Year)

Main Speaker: Nobel Laureate Professor Klaus von Klitzing

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Lecture Topic: "A New Kilogram Next Year – How my Nobel Prize Contributed to this Development
Date: Tuesday 2nd October, 2018
TIME: 6pm
VENUE: JFK Lecture Theatre, UWI

Immediately upon being invited to the event I was unbelievably excited. It made me feel like this vast world suddenly became smaller and things that seemed unreachable became all the more possible and all the dreams that could ever be dreamt could be truly actualized. Of course getting credit for attending was just a plus, but having such a once in a lifetime opportunity, to hear from one of the Rock stars of the scientific world definitely could not be missed. They say that great leaders once had great mentors and that to be the best, you have to learn from the best. As such, hearing from one of the greatest minds in the world could not be passed. I had to know the secrets of his lifetime adventure.

As I proceeded to the JFK Lecture Theatre, the surreal sunset and cool breezes brought an air of expectancy and anticipation. Located outside was a distribution table where we received additional reading resources. Upon receiving them, I walked inside not knowing what lay in the minutes ahead.

The seminar, I found out, was hosted by CARISCIENCE (The network of Research and Development Institutions in the Basic Sciences in the Caribbean), in conjunction with the German Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, The Faculty of Science and Technology of the UWI, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the University of the Southern Caribbean. This, I believed to be very commendable, having all the collegiate institutions coming together for a common purpose. This should be the goal of every individual, organization and the global community as a whole.

The event launched the annual CARISCIENCE Nobel Laureate Lecture Series and this year they invited Noble Laureate Professor Klaus von Klitzing, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1985, for his discovery that under the appropriate conditions the resistance offered by an electrical conductor is quantized; that is, it varies by discrete steps rather than smoothly and continuously.

The lecture was moderated by Dr. Richard Taylor, while the opening remarks were given by Professor Dyer Narinesingh; the President of CARISCIENCE. He did elaborate on the goals and vision of the organization which included; a singular Caribbean intellectual space which encourages problem solving and converting knowledge into wealth creation. He also mentioned that they set out to foster collaboration with international affiliates which would expose stakeholders to relevant equipment, methods and technologies and henceforth be a voice for the Caribbean region. He also drew reference to Loreal's vision :

Diversity + Inclusion = Innovation

The objectives of the organization seemed relevant and highly necessary to facilitate the ongoing progress being made within the region. To create a competitive, highly innovative, critically minded workforce to create a name and competitive edge for our Caribbean citizenry. He ended with the notion that "it cannot be business as usual" if we are to continue to harness the potential of young minds in this time.

The Welcome Address was then presented by Professor Indar Ramnarine, who encouraged "impactful research that should reshape the boundaries of your fields." I found this highly motivating as we seek to be world changers in this age. Not only to occupy space but to make a distinct dent in our respective fields and make full use of the time allotted us, to better humanity. He also stated that, "It is not only possible to understand the intricacies of the world but also to improve it." Ah yes, our vision should indeed be: to identify the problem, gauge the solution, implement the solution and continue to improve the solution.

The Introduction of the Speaker was performed by Dr. Brian Cockburn, who articulated a summary of the career paths and accomplishments of Professor Klitzing. This only sought to inspire me more on this journey to think bigger and dream larger.

As soon as the Nobel Laureate Professor Klaus von Klitzing commandeered the stage, instantly the fires of passion that burnt ever so brightly oh so many years ago, was distinctly evident, burning just as intensely even at this age. This jovial character, was clearly thrilled to be speaking about his life's work and the opportunities it still presented him today, in being able to visit the Caribbean. I immediately could not help thinking, wow, I hope at the closing end of my life, I still feel such passion, fervor and irradiate such vibrancy about the things that excite my soul.

Not only was he surprisingly pleasant but his speaking skills were far from boring, as he carried us on the journey with him through the process of the discovery day, to giving us the information that we could indeed buy ourselves our own Noble Prize, however, in so doing not be privy to the elaborate "Hogwart-esque" feast they had to attend. It definitely seemed like something out of a storybook.
He also mentioned the ages of the new Noble Prize winners for Physics this year, with Arthur Ashkin being 97 years and Gérard Mourou being 76 years.

Absolutely incredible! This just proves that age is just a number and that we should never let something like age stop us from achieving our full potential. This is a continuous learning process and Life is indeed the teacher. It demonstrates perseverance, diligence and discipline to the highest degree and there is lot to be learnt from their immense persistence to the task. (#whatisretirement?)

As he proceeded to his topic "A New Kilogram Next Year – How My Noble Prize Contributed to this Development", he explained how the initial constant was acquired. The Kilogram (kg), the basic unit off mass in the metric system and was considered equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram, a platinum-iridium cylinder (Big K), kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures laboratory at Sèvres, France.

The accuracy of every measurement of mass or weight worldwide, whether in pounds and ounces or milligrams and metric tons, depends on how closely the reference masses used in those measurements can be linked to the mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK). The most minuscule of accuracy discrepancies would have tremendous impact in fields such as medicine, engineering and electronics, which are dependent on precise measurements. Consequently, it effects other phenomena like force, energy and luminous energy, which use it as fundamental building blocks for measurement.

It has been identified that the cylinder is indeed changing in measurement due to gas initially used in its creation and is now slowly seeping out of the cylinder, consequently changing its dimensions making it an unreliable standard for measurement. To facilitate this, a drastic change had to be made and as such in November 2018, the international scientific community plans to redefine the kilogram by basing it instead on a constant of nature, making it a profound moment in the history of measurement.

Thus, since the kilogram remains the only SI unit represented by an unstable artifact, the redefinition included expressing the kilogram in terms of Planck's constant, which would aid in avoiding future problems. Firstly, physicists required an accurate measure of Planck's constant which is the quantum-mechanical number that relates how a particle's energy relates to its frequency and through E = mc^2, to its mass. Thus once a fixed value is achieved to Planck's constant, a new definition of the kilogram can be derived.

In order to measure Planck's constant precisely, two experiments are being conducted. One known as the Avogadro Project, involves counting the number of atoms in two spheres of silicon that each have the same weight as the Big K. Having obtained this number, the precise number of atoms comprising a particular substance, researchers can calculate Avogadro's constant, convert it for a value for Planck's constant and relate the kilogram to atomic mass.

The second experiment uses an instrument called a watt (or Kibble) balance, which is a type of scale, that produces a value for Planck's constant by measuring a one-kilogram test mass, which is calibrated by using Big K, against electromagnetic forces. Planck's constant is proportional to the amount of electromagnetic energy required to balance the mass.

Two differing universal constants are used in order to calculate the current and voltage that make up the electromagnetic force. The Josephson constant and von Klitzing constant are used. (Yes I got to meet one of the only two living remaining constants!!! I felt truly blessed.) The discovery of the von Klitzing constant, is part of the Quantum Hall Effect, which earned Professor von Klitzing, his Nobel Prize.

While he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, experiments conducted led to observations of the effect of magnetic fields applied to semiconductors allowed to cool to extremely low temperatures. This led to the discovery that electrical resistance rose stepwise, rather than smoothly and continuously, indicating an integer fraction of a specific number, 25,812.807 ohms, now identified as the von Klitzing constant.

Thus, the Quantum Hall Effect is now used worldwide for calibrating electrical resistances and the von Klitzing constant is utilized by the scientific community to measure current in a watt balance. Essentially, the fundamental constants can aid in establishing possible units that can retain their significance for lifetimes and species to come, through the Quantum Hall Effect.

Additionally, we were rest assured that the new kilogram will be defined in such a way that nothing will change in our daily life. It will be indeed more stable and more universal. Granted that as Henry Marks stated, "Science is measurement. Everything you measure is expressed in units," this was definitely a plus. He continued by explaining who decides the best definition of the SI Unit, which comprises of diplomats from sixty member states and forty-four associate states, at the General Conference on Weights and Measurements.

The most recent having occurred in August 2018, based discussions to adapt a resolution that would replace the current SI, with the revised SI, provided the amount of data uncertainties pertaining to the current standard. The precondition for the new kilogram must be reliable, as well as have an uncertainty smaller than fifty micrometers. This stipulation was fulfilled in July 2017, and as such would be finalized at the next conference which is to take place in November 2018.

Finally, he noted that the best values of fundamental constants, (h, e, c Kb, Na) creates the most stable basis for the new system of units and hopefully by the next General Conference on Weights and Measures in November 2018, will be the replacement for the present SI System.
The Professor, was also sure to reinforce the need as scientists to question continuously.

Question nature and the way things work. Question the problems posed to you. Question what you understand and what you want to solve. He emphasized the need to always stay curious and always gain inspiration from other subject matter, which would bring new perspectives and ideas to trains of thought. He also asked several questions that he left up to us to solve.

They included:

  • Are fundamental constants really constant?
  • How do they change due to cosmic radiation, global warming, with time?
  • Are there other fundamental constants in the universe?
  • What happens if you combine other fundamental constants? (with regard to velocity of sound/gases and temperature)
  • What impact does the Quantum Hall Effect have on living cells?

Opinion of the role and future of physics in life

Physics is the cornerstone of life and everything surrounding it. Every basic principle rests on the foundation of Physics (of course this is me being highly biased). It involves the study of matter, energy and their interactions and other sciences are dependent on its theories to further develop their own and improve the quality of life.

I do believe we have the upper hand as physicists and a greater responsibility to society to find answers to the most fundamental questions in life. To explain why the world work as it does and to provide adequate, substantial, mathematically correct evidence to question the bases of such thought. Physicists perceive beyond the normal realm and consider factors outside regular streams of thinking and are then conditioned to think outside the non-existent box.

This will prove ideal to the future of Physics in this society, as we break down to the fundamental backbone of structures and understand how they function, how they can be improved and how they can be manipulated by variables. This skill is essential for countless applications and is necessary for continued development in any sector.

Technological advances can occur due to the discovery of new particles, forces and structures in the subatomic world. There would also be enhanced computational and calculation power causing extraordinary leaps and bounds unfathomable before. With this would also bring the onslaught of artificial intelligence integrated lifestyles to the common man, allowing multipurpose use.

Not to mention the development of quantum artificial intelligence if large-scale computing is actualized. Vast use of computers and electronics would lead to even more advanced medical breakthroughs with prosthetics, which would enhance the human experience and even possible come to define consciousness in terms of nature's fundamental forces.

Additionally with the exponential advancement in space technology, conditioning for studying and visiting the cosmos would seem closer to realization, even as space transport is made more readily accessible. Physics is indeed a driving force into a very futuristic ideal, expanding space and time, and blazing the trail for the reorientation of the human mind.

Cheers to the future of Physics!

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