Dr Chris Ferrie is a mathematician, physicist and quantum theorist whose research is contributing to some of the theoretical building blocks of a yet-to-be developed quantum computer
Ferrie’s off-beat approach to research communication includes using clickbait-style headlines on academic posters and authoring children’s books like Quantum Physics for Babies and General Relativity for Babies
Dr Chris Ferrie likes to experiment. The Centre for Quantum Software and Information quantum theorist likes to “mix things up” in his research, in the way he communicates with fellow academics and in the work he has published.
It’s a unique perspective that has found Ferrie occasionally moonlighting as a children’s book author, with titles like Quantum Physics for Babies, Newtonian Physics for Babies and General Relativity for Babies. Ferrie says the books started as a “nerdy baby book joke”, but have since turned into a series of six (and counting) children’s books on similar scientific concepts.
“Writing picture books was quite easy and natural for me because I have four small children and I could see how they would grasp and process the world around them. I simply took that process, converted them into short, five-word sentences, drew some pictures and that formed the basis of my books,” says Ferrie.
While the term ‘quantum physics’, probably doesn’t conjure thoughts of a kid-friendly read, the books have been a runaway success. “I was very lucky to receive some free publicity after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a family photo of himself and his wife Priscilla Chan reading Quantum Physics for Babies to their daughter.”
A flurry of media and social media interest followed and his children’s books have since been signed to an American publishing house.
Back at UTS, Ferrie’s using the same approach in his research. He’s hoping to contribute to some of the theoretical building blocks of a yet-to-be developed quantum computer.
“Right now, much of the current research is heavily influenced by physicists and the ideas and culture of physics, whereas I want to bring ideas from other fields such as machine learning, statistics and information theory to solve the same problem,” says Ferrie. “This way of thinking doesn't really exist now.”
For Ferrie, experimentation is key. “I think you need to try a lot of different things, and from there, have the successes or failures dictate your next step.”
It’s one of the reasons why Ferrie looks to capitalise on research seminars and conferences to uncover new and engaging ways to present his work. At a recent conference, Ferrie’s academic poster looked more like a popular news and entertainment website, presenting quantum tomography and optimisation via a series of clickbait-style headlines, like, ‘This data will restore your faith in science’.
The off-beat approach successfully cut through the clutter. Ferrie’s became the most-viewed poster at the Australian Institute of Physics Congress last December. “My aim is to keep people engaged and excited,” says Ferrie. “And it certainly got a lot of people talking!
“With over two million academic papers being published each year, academics can’t rely on journals to make their work visible.
“I'm having a bit of fun, and I’ll keep doing this because I can see that it has a positive effect on people.”