Science Outreach

Welcome! Thank you for being here. If you reach this part of the website it is because you are curious. Fantastic! I bet you will keep reading! 

Science is fun, and sharing it even more!

This is my philosophy: Science and Physics should be accessible and understandable for everyone! For instance my youngest cousin (~4 years) and also my grandparents (~8 decades). I assume that you do not have a grandparent that is a Nobel Laureate. However, other parts of my website are a little bit less accessible for a general audience. But that is why I created this page. To help and highlight parts from the mainstream of activities and research I do. You understand that scientific work has to be formal, and there are a lot of technical words that are required to communicate and spread results. Nevertheless, you can always ask me in case of interest in any of my publications, material, etc. or if you are interested in any explanation or question. If it is within my reach, I will be glad to provide you with more information.

Now, let’s start with a series of questions, –but do not worry,– the following questions are for me!

What is Physics? 

Physics is “the study of matter, energy, and the interaction between them”. But what it means is that physics is about asking fundamental questions and trying to answer them by observing and experimenting. Formulating, simple rules, with a mathematical frame and then make predictions. Physicists ask BIG questions like:

  • How did the universe begin?
  • How will the universe change in the future?
  • How does the Sun keep on shining?
  • What are the basic building blocks of matter?

If you think these questions are fascinating, then you’ll like physics.

What do Physicists do?

Many physicists work in ‘pure’ research, trying to find answers to these types of question. The answers they come up with often lead to unexpected technological applications. Physics doesn’t just deal with theoretical concepts. It’s applied in every sphere of human activity, including:

  • Development of sustainable forms of energy production.
  • Treating cancer, radiotherapy, and diagnosing illness by imaging, all is based on physics.
  • Developing computer games. Yes, some of them.
  • Design and manufacture of sports equipment or sports cars.
  • Understanding and predicting earthquakes or other natural phenomena.

…in fact, pretty much every sector you can think of needs people with physics knowledge.

What about mathematics?

Many complicated things in nature can be understood in terms of relatively simple mathematical relationships. Physicists try to uncover these relationships through observing, creating mathematical models, and testing them by doing experiments. The mathematical equations used in physics often look far more complicated than they are. Nevertheless, if you are going to study physics, you will need to get to grips with a certain amount of maths. 

…and computers?

Physicists are increasingly using advanced computers and programming languages in the solution of scientific problems, particularly for modelling complex processes. If the simulation is not based on correct physics, then it has no chance of predicting what happens in nature. Most degree courses in physics now involve at least some computer programming.

 Why did I decide to study physics?

Simply because Physics challenges our imagination, and is the main reason why I love so much physics. Additionally, Physics requires in-depth knowledge of many other Sciences (and being inquisitive) for example, Math, Computational science, Biology, engineering, chemistry, even philosophy! 

 So, what especially do you work on José?

Physics is vast, it spread from Cosmology, High-energy, Astrophysics, Applied Physics, etc., really a lot! I work in a remarkable branch of Physics: In Condensed Matter Physics. You can think of it, as everything related to the physics of solids. In other words, I use the theoretical work developed by great minds (Nobel Laureates), quantum mechanics. I use these theories, and sometimes help to create new ones. Afterwards, also implement these theories (equations) in computers. We passed to supercomputers, then “they” do the job for us : )  

YPF meeting on “Quantum Information ” [12/05/2019]

On May (2019) I had the great honour to be invited at the YPF meeting on “Quantum Information” and give the closure talk. The YPF is a yearly meeting organised and attended by extremely motivated young physicist students from all over Switzerland. This time was held in Basel. You can consult all the talks and more information here.

TecDays by SATW in Kantonsschule Heerbrugg (2019), Kantonsschule (2018) and Kantonsschule Bern (2017)

Science outreach activities are incredible in so many ways. They can generate much-needed excitement and interest in science with students and the public. They create appreciation in the community for your profession and institution. Delivering them brings a sense of accomplishment, sociability, and community. Providing science outreach activities is also a great way to gain a deeper understanding of science and its applications and develop valuable communication skills. As part of this, several years, I had to take part in outreach activities in Kantonsshchulen (high schools) in Switzerland and deliver funny talks with a scientific character, about: 

Supercomputer: Die Zukunft der Materialwissenschaften
Dank immer schneller werdender Computer ist es heute möglich, im virtuellen Labor die Eigenschaften von Materialien oder Stoffen zu simulieren. Diese Simulationen sind nützlich für die Entwicklung von Solarzellen, supraleitenden Materialien, Computerkomponenten und Materialien zur Speicherung von neuen Energieträgern wie z.B. Wasserstoff. Supraleitende Materialien können elektrischen Strom ohne Widerstand verlustfrei leiten und somit zu erheblichen Energieeinsparungen führen.
Zusätzlich stossen sie Magnetfelder aus und könnten damit andere Technologien wie Quantencomputer ermöglichen. Um die quantenmechanischen Gesetze der atomaren Welt korrekt zu berücksichtigen, sind für solche Simulationen die schnellsten Computer dieser Welt notwendig. Dieses Modul gibt einen interaktiven Einblick in den Entwurf neuer Materialien mit Hilfe von Supercomputern. Wir werden am Computer ein Molekül basteln und anschliessend auf dem Grossrechner der Universität Basel eine Simulation laufen lassen. Wir werden auch eine atomare Simulation mit Hilfe einer Virtual-Reality-Brille analysieren. Wer findet das «beste» Molekül?
Pictures of our latest incursion in Kantonsschule Heerbrugg, March 2019. 

Organising the MARVEL Junior Retreat (report) [17/07/2018]

I had the great pleasure to organise and coordinate together with Patrick Gono (PhD student at EPFL) the 2018 MARVEL Junior retreat. Thirty-three participants from the MARVEL community attended it. In total, 15 Postdocs, 13 PhD students and 5 INSPIRE Potentials Master students. It lasted four days and consisted of 12 contributed talks, four key-notes and three social activities. The venue we chose this year was the Alpenblick hotel, which is located in the Kanton of Valis, in the town of Fieschertal. This year the retreat was planned in a workshop style. Contrary to previous editions, this year, we did not impose collaborative tasks during the meeting. First, we aimed to set-up a relaxed and informal atmosphere. We scheduled a presentation parade with 1 or 2 slides per participant. Secondly, with carefully selected key speakers, we aimed to improve research skills and professional development. Third, we aimed to foster collaborations across interdisciplinary groups. Finally, we also tried, of course, to make the meeting and the participation in social activities among peers as enjoyable as possible.

Four keynotes and other contributed talks:

1) Thomas Wagnières presented a mini-workshop tutorial of 120 m, followed by a hands-on session on presentation skills.  We learned to be more natural speakers, how to convey our ideas with clarity, and how to organise and formulate inspiring presentations. Feedback: The short workshop was received very well. The participants manifested that they learned something, with more than two-thirds of the participants interested in a potential full-length seminar in the future. 

2) Sibylla Martinelli from Euresearch sketched the landscape of EU funding available to Postdoctoral researchers, with a focus on the Marie Curie individual grants as well as the ERC starting grants. Feedback: Due to the high number of questions that arose during the talk, the presentation was rushed at the end. 

3) J. Kay Dewhurst (Max-Planck Halle) substituted our preliminary invited speaker, Antonio Sanna. He is the leading developer of the elk DFT code, and he develops ab-initio theories. He presented a lecture on the density functional theory (basic), guided us through the GW approximation and connected ideas to the ab-initio description of superconductivity. Feedback: This talk was set-up in the spirit of letting the people ask whatever they wanted about DFT: sometimes they are afraid to ask in their respective groups, or the doubts surpass the in house know-how. This talk was profoundly admired by all the attendees and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. 

4) Andris Gulans (Humboldt-Universität Zu Berlin) is one of the leading developers of the exciting DFT code and contributes heavily to the development of NOMAD. He introduced the NOMAD repository and its role in storing, sharing, and analysing computational data in materials science. Feedback: There was a great interest form the attendees and many questions arose by the materials-cloud developers who were present. There was interest in the plug-ins and parsers developed in NOMAD that are free to use. Overall, the attendees received this talk positively, and there was good feedback. 

Twelve contributed lectures of 20 m were carefully selected by taking into account the following criteria: gender-unbiased, equal representation of research groups, and pondering equally to master students, PhDs and postdocs. Other activities were organised to foster friendly relations between different groups in the MARVEL community. Apart from group dinners, an excursion to the Aletsch glacier, scientific discussions in the sauna and by the pool, a round table discussion took place. Among the discussed topics were: (in)equality of women in science, and the role of projects like the INSPIRE Potentials; funding of science in general, and the inadvertent concentration of funds to a few select institutions, or countries; problems related to co-authorship; and the importance of the peer review process in ensuring quality science. The discussion has brought these topics to attention, and, hopefully, will help the participants not only to do proper research but also to create a fair environment for future scientists.

The Conclusion

This retreat was a unique chance for junior scientists under the umbrella of MARVEL to get to know each other, get inspired and to learn. An independent and unbiased questionnaire was available online after the event to receive feedback from the attendees. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive; the majority of the participants determined to attend the next installation. The most quoted highlights were the social activities, the friendly atmosphere, the variety of the invited talks, their excellent quality, and the opportunity brought to junior members to present their work. Finally, the participants rated the retreat with an average score of 9 out of 10.