The Phantastic Quantum Computing Field Trip!

The Phantastic Quantum Computing Field Trip!

High School The Study Academy Report

Pedagogy is a multi-faceted thing. It has curricular and extra-curricular dimensions. And in the 21st century, we at The Study Academy have embraced the role modern technology plays in allowing students to engage with ideas. Enter teacher James Stinson who, in addition to knowing a thing or two in the social sciences, has a pretty firm grasp on advanced technology. James has already figured out ways of using that passion for the benefit of our students. His robotics club has been a big hit in past years and he’s continuing that trend this year. Add to the list the Computer Club that debuted Thursday of last week. With this in mind, it wasn’t surprising that James was a particular fan of Principal Jason Krell’s idea for a field trip to the Institute of Quantum Computing and the Physica Phantastica event at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. In fact, the field trip struck numerous faculty and staff as a very special idea for making an impact on students. We know that so many students today engage with sophisticated technology, from cell phones, to iPods, to various gaming platforms, and many more. And of course, as parents already know, we’re not shy of using modern teaching technology to illuminate our lesson plans and encourage self-knowledge for our students. Our brain wave technology has been an invaluable tool for helping students focus, and our smart boards have allowed us to incorporate various media into the classroom all in one device. But in addition to students using complex devices, we want our bright students to encounter how such devices function, and hear how they’re developed. While the Institute of Quantum Computing and Perimeter Institute in Waterloo were a bit of trek, we figured it was well worth the travel time.

Quantum Computing

On the road to the Quantum Institute.

And it was. The day began with a lecture by Outreach Scientist Dr. Kelly Foyle, whose interesting application of scientific principles made for a special treat: she demonstrated how very entwined birds are in various invisible forces. For example, birds depend on the Earth’s magnetic field and certain quantum effects to help them navigate during seasonal migrations. What an important lecture to remind us that quantum effects aren’t simply an invention of the modern age for the purpose of high-tech computers, but that they’ve been an important part of the natural world for ages. An awe-inspiring thought, one the students have proved they’re happy to engage with. And there was no shortage of people modelling deep thinking. Knowledge, as we came to see, wasn’t only being exchanged on the lecture stand — interested visitors and knowledgeable researchers were grouped around whiteboards, discussing a wide range of topics in the area of theoretical physics. What a great way for Study Academy students to witness the uncontainable nature of the scientific imagination.

After the lecture, students made their way across the snow-laden campus to see the incredible resources housed at the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridas Quantum-Nano Centre, where they encountered gorgeous open architecture. It was a beautiful backdrop against which they were about to glimpse into the heart of technologies that could “harness the quantum laws of nature,” as the Institute’s website boasts. The Institute of Quantum Computing is another fixture that puts on a number of wonderful lectures: in the past, they’ve explored topics like dark matter, the art of ‘guesstimation’, and the history of and science behind the famous Mars Rover. But in order to see why the Institute of Quantum Computing is considered one of the world’s top quantum computing research centres, we wanted physical proof.

Quantum Computing

A cryogenic chamber containing superconducting material.

That was taken care of by Senior Manager of Scientific Outreach, Martin Laforest, who offered explanations, history, and anecdotes on various machines the Institute had on display. He also fielded some really bright and creative questions from our students. While we knew the Institute contained impressive machines such as atomic clocks, we were treated to seeing two  particularly amazing machines that we weren’t expecting. We saw a quantum computer that operates through the use of a 14-watt laser, and another one that functions at temperatures barely above absolute zero (given that it was one of our colder days in November, it wasn’t hard to imagine what absolute zero would feel like). It was a privilege to get a first-hand look at these technologies. And while these machines aren’t likely to be commercially available any time in the near future, they signify massive leaps forward in the field.

With technology getting smaller and smaller, we felt it was so crucial for students to glimpse the features and components of nanotechnology which are integral to the devices they use on a daily basis. We want students to remember the human touch behind all of these technologies, to remind them that their primary purpose is to help them explore ideas and develop skills (in addition to being sources of entertainment). We think the best way to reconnect with that purpose is to see the minds that developed these fantastic technologies in the first place. We look forward to continuing this tradition of fun and educational field trips, even on the snowiest of days!

Exploring the Deep Blue Sea: Ripley’s Aquarium!

Exploring the Deep Blue Sea: Ripley’s Aquarium!

Middle School

Hello Readers,

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Our students building their very own plankton!

I hope you all have an exciting long weekend planned. Quite a few of our students mentioned some rather fun plans they were arranging, however, that is only after speaking so enthusiastically about their adventure at Ripley’s Aquarium.  I’m sure you recall how earlier this month a group of High School students traveled there for our Workshop week. If not, please check out the post at your leisure.

Just like our High School students, Middle School students and faculty truly enjoyed this educational and entertaining field trip. So, what were some of the activities that our animated students spoke so highly of?  The Great Plankton Challenge was certainly a highlight for many and featured academic ties to the Science curriculum. You might be thinking that something as small as plankton couldn’t possibly be so interesting. Well, dear reader, I am glad to tell you that you are wrong. Students were delighted and inspired; they learned how essential the role of the small organism truly is to our larger ocean biodiversity! They were even given a chance to design their own perfect plankton!


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Life within coral!

Middle School students were also able to explore the multiple galleries available at this large Toronto aquarium.  In the Canadian waters exhibit, the students saw more local creatures such as as lobster and largemouth bass. In the Rainbow Reef, students learned about more tropical fish originating from the Indo-Pacific region.  There was even an exhibit called “Planet Jellies”! I bet you can guess what creatures were there! Tons of beautiful jelly fish and information on their fascinating life cycle! The fun, however, did not stop at that — students were also able to interact with the aquatic life! They were able to touch some aquatic life at the Horseshoe Crab Touch Pool, and pet stingrays in the touch tanks, as well as watch divers feed stingrays from their very own hands.

Overall, it was a very exciting and informative day for our Middle School students. Now they are all off to enjoy a relaxing long weekend, which I hope you do as well, dear Reader.

Till next week!