Science Ball: Quantum Moves on the Dance Floor

Vienna has an impressive ball season stretching from November to February. This year the Mayor created an entirely new ball at Vienna’s City Hall: The Vienna Science Ball (Ball der Wissenschaften) on Saturday the 31st of January. This was an ambitious experiment, which attempted to connect the traditional Viennese ball with modern science. This year featured quantum science and we were invited to present our Quantum Games.

Not only were we invited to present our games at the Ball, but also to present our scientific results at the Atomic Institute at the Vienna University of Technology. It was the first time we presented our results for a purely scientific audience, so it was extremely interesting and a bit nerve-racking to see how our results would be received. The fact that the Atomic Institute has some of the world’s leading groups in our field only made it more interesting.

Normally our group leader Jacob would go to these events. However, Jacob could not go, so Jens Jakon Sørensen (J.J.) the PhD student got the opportunity instead. J.J. has spent (and spends) many hours on analysing the player results and optimising the computer algorithms.

Friday – Discovering the Atomic Institute

He arrived Thursday evening in Vienna. He had a black suit with bow tie ready for the ball, as he had checked out the very important dress code for the Viennese balls from home. At 10 a.m., it was snowing over the beautiful city. He found the Atomic Institute on the outskirts of the city center. He entered the building with immense excitement and a bit of anxiety. He was welcomed by a smiling Prof. Dr. Jörg Scheidmeyer and an enthusiastic Dr. Tarik Berrada. His presentation was not until at 3:30 pm., so with great eager, he was shown the different experiments at the Institute. At 3:30 p.m., the presentation room was crowded with people. Prof. Dr. Scheidemeyer had to sit on a table, as there were no more chairs. With sweating palms, he began the presentation. People listened with great concentration and interest. There were many highly relevant questions. The presentation was only supposed to last for 45 min, but the many questions lead to a presentation that took twice as long. It was a great success and it clearly demonstrated that the games generate high-quality scientific data.

Saturday – Ball of the Nerds

Yesterday’s visit to the Atomic Institute was captivating but, putting it simply, it was not the pinnacle of this trip. No that was Saturday’s Ball. At 9 a.m. J.J. saw the beautiful Belvedere Palace. He skipped his lunch and instead decided to dedicate all of his hunger to Vienna’s indulging cakes. At 8 p.m. the Ball opened and J.J. made his way up the red carpet. The city hall as an enchanting Neo-Gothic style. The staff approved everybody’s outfit. An elderly Gentleman wore a tie instead of a bowtie. With a stern look, he was informed that this indiscretion would only be allowed once – phew, good J.J. read up on the dress code. In the main room, there was a symphony orchestra and a dance floor for the compulsory Viennese Waltz. The game was projected onto a screen in a lounge across from a disco with a quantum theme. There was a computer so anyone could try. There were two narrow entries to the disco, which was a reference to the classic double split experiment in quantum mechanics. Strategically located at the disco the game quickly gathered a lot of attention. J.J. was asked questions ranging from: “Let me get started, how do I play?” to the more technical “How does the game contribute?” and “What are your results?”. In no time, there were more people asking questions than he could possibly answer. Lucky, the other physicists from the Atomic Institute were equally excited about the game so they helped explain the game throughout the evening. Several times during the ball, there were five people answering questions in parallel. Some were a little shy of playing in front of others, whereas this one guy just took over the computer and kept playing for 15 minutes straight. Eventually, his date literally had to drag him away from the computer. People kept coming and trying the game continuously until the early hours.

Coverage about the ball from W24 TV here:

Science Ball: Quantum Moves on the Dance Floor