To infinity and beyond


Spoiler alert, this note is about maths! Do not be afraid.

Our grandchildren were never troubled by the absurdity of the catch phrase Buzz Lightyear, the star character used in the film Toy Story when he called out,

To infinity and beyond.

My knowledge of maths is no better than their infant understanding of Buzz Lightyear’s absurdity.

I write at the intersection of several anniversaries. It is 75 years since the end of the War in the Pacific. Concurrently science is fighting Covid 19, and the university of New South Wales (UNSW) has announced the world’s first undergraduate course in Quantum Physics Engineering.

The dark days of WW11 drove some soldiers to delve into their memory and work out ways they could communicate their miserable conditions in War Prisons to the outside world. In many places they went back to building crystal radios. On these forbidden implements they listened in to world news and when it was safe to do so they communicated their state to the world.

When I grew up boys, myself included, would build our own sets. I never had the patience to make a hobby out of this like some of my classmates. The making of these crude radios like our fathers, or uncles had made was a simple way of boys understanding parts of the real war.

Normally when medical scientists make a drug it takes up to ten years of trial by experiment until it is released. When it is – the drug spreads about the body in a chaotic manner. Today scientists are using nano technology to examine if they can be more specific with the administration of drugs. This is especially true of drugs for cancer. (There is no value is killing a cancer if it kills the whole organ). With nanotechnology they think they can kill cancerous cells specifically thus leaving other organ cells untouched.

I assume a vaccine works differently to a drug for cancer yet the speed of the first 179 groups progress searching for a solution for the pandemic has been amazing. (The world is living in hope success is not far away).

Normally an announcement of the kind the UNSW made would not register with me. This time it has because it promises jobs. I make no pretence of understanding Quantum Physics but in this lockdown world of mine the thought some young people have the to opportunity to study and gain work when otherwise we are on the edge of a long lasting depression it is good news.

My Television set is a seven year old LCD smart set. Someone purchasing a set today can buy a Qled system that produces a better picture than the one I have happily been using. The Q in Qled stands for quantum. There – that is practically all I know of the subject.

Fortunately learning is built on the learning of others. When I learned to build a crystal set and copy the skills of war prisoners I could not imagine nano technologies and quantum physics. The scientists who built the first lasers could never imagine their invention could be developed to read my Visa card. They had no understanding of how their invention might be used. When the UNSW offers a course in quantum physics it doesn’t understand how many of the undergraduates qualified to repair Qled TVs will continue their studies and invent new applications. They simply predict hundreds of new jobs will follow. I think they are right.