The IFT welcomes over 100 students for a masterclass on the future of Physics degree

The IFT welcomes over 100 students for a masterclass on the future of Physics degree
  • The event, named "To Physics and Beyond", brought together six physicists with different professional orientations.
  • Four researchers discussed major open topics, such as the future of the Large Hadron Collider, the cosmological constant, black holes, and the possibility of multiverses.
  • The CEO of Komorabi AI, David Gordo, shared his experience as an entrepreneur after completing his PhD.
  • The well-known science communicator and face of the Quantum Fracture channel, José Luis Crespo, gave a talk on a mysterious topic, one of the most important issues for current and future generations.
  • The students, pursuing degrees in Physics and various levels of Secondary Education in the Community of Madrid, extended the event by more than an hour with their questions.


Organized by: Agustín Sabio Vera.

Last Friday, May 17th, the Institute of Theoretical Physics IFT UAM/CSIC hosted around 130 students from the Physics degree and secondary studies from the Community of Madrid, who attended six short talks about the future beyond university. The speakers, six physicists who have directed their careers towards different specialties, shared parts of their research and highlighted the various career paths available for future physicists in the audience.

From their different perspectives, in the first four talks Rafael Carrasco and Eduardo Velasco, predoctoral researchers, Ana Cueto, UAM/CERN researcher, and Alberto Casas, IFT researcher and CSIC Research Professor, explained the open problems in their different fields of work. David Gordo, CEO of Komorabi AI, recounted his professional trajectory: how he was able to pivot from physics to business. Lastly, the science communicator José Luis Crespo from the popular YouTube channel Quantum Fracture gave a surprise talk.


The Cosmological Constant Hanging by a Thread

pie de foto: 
Rafael Carrasco

Rafael Carrasco offered a talk on string theory and its relationship with the cosmological constant. In a few minutes, Rafael explained the cosmological constant, which Einstein proposed in a formula that relates space-time with the matter and energy of the universe. As the predoctoral researcher told us, at one point Einstein himself considered it one of his greatest mistakes because it went against the understanding of the universe at that time. If this constant has a positive and non-zero value, it would mean that the universe is expanding, and increasingly rapidly. Today, observations tell us that this is true: the expansion of the universe is real and accelerating. So the cosmological constant makes sense and must be positive and non-zero. “But this does not quite align with string theory, which predicts it should be either zero or negative,” Rafael explained during the talk.

This is the great problem of string theory, on which scientists like Rafael are working, revealing that solutions are being considered, such as hyperbolic spaces taking advantage of Casimir effects. As a conclusion to his presentation, it was extracted that much work remains to get to the bottom of the matter. In these mysteries of fundamental physics lies an opportunity for all students interested in theoretical physics research.


Black Holes: Life in a Hologram

pie de foto: 
Eduardo Velasco

Eduardo Velasco spoke about black holes, addressing questions about Hawking radiation. As Eduardo explained, space-time, according to general relativity, curves where there is mass. Any object passing through this deformed space-time will adjust its trajectory to that curvature. Even light. So there must be objects that deform space so much that light cannot escape that curvature: black holes.

A curious consequence of the presence of black holes is Hawking radiation. In space, according to quantum physics, pairs of particles and their antiparticles can spontaneously form, which after forming, reunite and annihilate each other. But if this happens at the edge of a black hole's event horizon, one particle can fall inside while the other escapes. This is what we call Hawking radiation, although the predoctoral researcher himself admitted that this solution did not entirely convince him.

This topic sparked several questions among the students, which Eduardo managed to answer with charm. This radiation takes some energy away from the black hole, causing it to “evaporate” gradually. The most notable question was: how does the black hole lose energy if it is not producing these particles? “Without the black hole's presence, we would not observe this radiation, so the energy must necessarily come from it,” Eduardo explained.

Black holes and the physics behind them led to a long round of questions. Eduardo demonstrated the origin of his vocation, connecting with an interested audience that could see a future in this research field.


Experimental Particle Physics: Present and Future

pie de foto: 
Ana Cueto

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has provided the last piece of the Standard Model by discovering the Higgs boson in 2012. But even after this prediction, Ana Cueto explained during her talk how much more we have to learn from the LHC and future particle accelerators.

The LHC currently has four detectors that have helped us learn the characteristics of each particle in the Standard Model. With this, it seems like there is nothing left for it to show us, but nothing could be further from the truth. As immediate research, Ana explained that the LHC is testing the potential of the Higgs boson by making it couple with itself. It also aims to interpret the deviations found from the Standard Model, find supersymmetric particles (called SUSY), and test other particle theories.

However, there are things the LHC cannot show us. It is not capable of revealing what dark matter is, where the mass of neutrinos comes from, or the origin of the matter-antimatter symmetry. This would require energy levels that the LHC cannot reach or physics that we have not yet developed. Nevertheless, the researcher reassured the audience, explaining that this problem is being tackled from different perspectives. For example, there are promising future particle accelerator projects, and many opportunities exist for future physicists interested in more practical research. “The goals are to look for signs of more exotic particles than those found so far and to develop new analysis techniques.” Every unresolved issue in physics is an opportunity for future researchers, not only in theory as Rafael and Eduardo taught us but also in practical work like Ana's.


The Physics of the Multiverse

pie de foto: 
Alberto Casas

Afterwards, Alberto Casas, CSIC Research Professor, decided to take the young attendees to the limits of science, presenting them with two theories about possible multiverses: the inflationary multiverse and the quantum multiverse. He posed the following question to the audience: could these theories be science or just pseudoscience?

Surprisingly, physics theoretically supports the possibility of “parallel universes.” The inflationary multiverse is based on a false vacuum potential, which accumulates vacuum energy until it collapses into a true vacuum. This transition from false to true vacuum releases the energy that forms particles and radiation: what we know as the Big Bang. But this collapse, Alberto explained, did not have to happen everywhere at once: it could have occurred in “bubbles” of space, separated. And as the universe expands rapidly, these bubbles will never interact. They are completely separate universes. “Even, depending on the collapse they have undergone, they can vary in the fundamental constants of nature: different types of particles, vacuum energies, spatial dimensions, etc.” Although, Alberto clarified, quantum mechanics and relativity, on which this theory is based, would still hold.

The quantum multiverse, on the other hand, is based on an alternative explanation for the superposition of states. To explain this, Alberto recalled some basic notions of quantum mechanics. A particle that can be in two states A or B is really in both at once until we observe it, and it collapses into one of the two states. As if the observer had a kind of magical property that makes the particle collapse. But the many-worlds hypothesis proposes that such a collapse does not actually occur; instead, two universes, two superimposed states, are formed. In one, the observer sees state A, and in the other, state B. And this happens with each interaction, forming a new pair of universes with each interaction.

Both theories differ from the understanding of the multiverse in fiction; these different universes can never interact with each other. And we are left with the question of whether these theories are really science. Alberto pointed out that they are not really demonstrable, so, can we consider them science? “They are speculative theories but based on scientific reasoning,” he clarified. These are some of the incredible possibilities we can obtain if we play with the mathematics and the laws of physics we know.

From Studying Physics to Starting an AI Company

pie de foto: 
David Gordo

There are many possible career paths for physics graduates. David Gordo shared his personal experience with the current research landscape: “When I finished my PhD, I feared the instability that arose from moving from postdoc to postdoc.” David pointed out the number of students entering the degree program each year and the number of university professors leaving their positions each year. “This uncertainty is something most of you will have to face,” he said.

David is an example of how one can completely change fields by leveraging the skills developed in a scientific career and acquiring new competencies. Like many others, he learned programming for physics and used it to start an Artificial Intelligence company based on Machine Learning and Deep Learning with some colleagues. This is how he became the CEO of his own company, Komorabi AI.

This, he mentioned in his talk, has its pros, such as economic stability, and cons, such as being forced to work on less interesting topics. But, according to him, these are pros and cons that many students will have to weigh. “You don't even need to get a master's degree in something related to the new field. Although this might open some doors for you,” said David, who only needed a couple of online courses and some luck with his project. Thus, he inspired the attendees with the possibility, within everyone's reach, of pivoting from a scientific career.


Crespo's Surprise Talk: The Risk of Climate Change and How to Communicate It

pie de foto: 
José Luis Crespo

Finally, José Luis Crespo, known for his Quantum Fracture channel, gave a talk on one of the most important topics today: climate change, presenting the enormous problem it poses and its complexity. “It's not just about rising temperatures. This temperature rise can have many ramifications, both climatic and economic,” he warned. 

With some humor and a personal touch, he gave an example from his own land, Castilla la Mancha. The temperature rise has, among others, the following effects: the same amount of rain but more torrential; new pests; more hail. All with terrible consequences for crops, which have their socio-economic ramifications. In general, price increases, the extinction of many plant species, and the production of much worse wine.

According to Crespo, in climate communication, it is taught not to sound too alarming but to talk about hopeful options. However, Crespo suggested using all the tools at our disposal to communicate about this urgent issue. In a more serious tone, he explained that we might be close to unknowingly passing a point of no return. A temperature increase that will have an exponential effect on itself and lead the Earth to heat up uncontrollably until reaching what is known in climate jargon as “hothouse Earth” or a runaway greenhouse effect.

With humor, but keeping the urgency the topic deserves, Crespo taught the physics behind climate change, why it is one of the most important issues for future generations, and provided an excellent example of how to communicate effectively on this subject. These are indispensable tools for future science communicators who wish to inspire the fight against global warming.

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