Monthly Archives: March 2015

year9_success = quantum + computing * python

Our school is taking part in the BBC Schools Report which goes live on 19th March, and I asked some of our Year 9 girls to summarise the two terms of Computing that they have experienced so far since September.  What they wrote was really very enlightening and encouraging, so rather than try to produce a precis of it, I would rather reproduce it in whole below.  What our Year 9s do know is that I am immensely proud of what they have achieved this year, and of what they will go on to achieve.

What we have been learning in Computing @BHSfG – Year 9

In ICT this year, we have been learning how to program in Python using Codecademy, which is the first time most of us had approached this sort of learning platform. We only knew basic information about coding e.g used to create software, but knew nothing about how to code. Now after only a few months, we know the fundamentals of coding and can program a simple questionnaire, which is a great achievement after knowing only a small amount, if not nothing about coding. We are now going a step further than Codecademy and are using ‘ Python Idle’ to program.

This will help us in the future, as many jobs in  will be orientated around computers and STEM, and even if we choose not to go into computing as a career, it will prove extremely useful in almost any job we might choose to persue.

And also if we wanted to go into any jobs like a computer programmer or a computer scientist, we will already have a head start on the other people training for this job, as we have been taught it from a young age.  An example of some of our programming code is below – and it is certain that if we had looked at this code even six months ago, we would not have had any idea what it means!

Python programming - Battleships

We have also been studying Quantum computing, and quantum entanglement and how when particles become entangled in the Quantum world, then one does the complete opposite to the other. This can be explained in more detail in the famous thought-experiment from Schrodingers, known as Schrodinger’s Cat. If you have one cat in a box which contains poison and close the lid, you don’t know if the cat has eaten the poison or not, so all the time the lid is shut, it is BOTH alive and dead at the same time! At this moment in time the cat is in a state called a Superposition. For example, if you put two separate cats in separate boxes (must be entangled) and you open one box the cat will be alive, and if you open the other, it must be dead. When one box is opened and the cat is observed, the cat changes from being in the state of superposition to being either dead or alive. But this defies the laws of physics, space and time!

We learnt that in classical mechanics there would be four outcomes. If we had two boxes with a cat in each box The cats could be:

  • Alive or Alive
  • Dead or Dead
  • Alive or Dead
  • Dead or Alive

However, in Quantum Mechanics there are only two outcomes:

  • Dead or Alive
  • Alive or Dead

This is all because of the fact the cats are Quantumly Entangled, and in Quantum Entanglement one object has a direct relationship with another one, which results in the two objects having opposite states – they cannot both be the same.  So here, the cats cannot both be alive at the same time, or both dead at the same time – they must have opposite states.  You can apply this to the binary world, so instead of dead-or-alive cats, we have binary digits (bits) which are either 1 or 0.

More recently we have been learning how Quantum Entanglement will be able to achieve extremely faster computers using qubits. When bits can both be a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, we call them qubits.  A qubit is much more powerful than just a regular bit – which is either a 1 or a 0 but cannot be both at the same time!) Using quantum entanglement, a quantum computer will be able to entangle the qubits so that they have a relationship to each other, and can hold an exponential number of multiple states!, Therefore computers will be able to simultaneously do millions of jobs or calculations simultaneously. We have been shown an example of a Quantum Computer, which is called D-wave, that has 300 qubits, and the plan is that before long it will have more computational power than the number of atoms in the visible universe!

All of this is at the cutting edge of both physics and science, and we realise that this technology has not yet been fully realised.  However it is fascinating to learn about the potential that Quantum Computing offers, and alongside our improving programming skills, we feel that Burgess Hill School for Girls is really equipping us for this exciting future.

Megan, Issy, Jazz, Elvie – Year 9


The leadership qualities of Sheryl Sandberg

I have received an assignment from the International Leaders and Organizational Behaviour course that I am currently completing.  The assignment is to identify the leader of an international company, and to make a case for a particularly outstanding individual who can serves as an inspiration for the company’s cadre of leaders.

Given that today is International Women’s Day, it seems only pertinent that I discuss Sheryl Sandberg.


Sandberg is of course the COO of Facebook, and rose to prominence as Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of the Treasury during Bill Clinton’s presidential terms in office.  Here she worked on forgiving debt in the developing world during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and in 2001 became Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google.  In both of these roles she demonstrated a deep appreciation of cultural differences and practices whilst very much keeping her eye on the global needs of the organisation for which she was working.  Since 2008 Sandberg has worked as COO of Facebook, and has transformed its approach to advertising and sales.  In 2008 Facebook’s revenue stood at US $272 Million; in 2014 the figure was US $12.5 Billion.  Sandberg also takes a strong stance on the issue of gender equality, in both the workplace and in society in general.  Her 2013 book, Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is heavily centred upon encouraging women to pursue business leadership careers, in which Sandberg states that “…a truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”

Sandberg embodies all of the principles that mark out a successful leader:

  • She has developed her own leadership style and is very at ease in articulating her opinions to a variety of observers.  Her background in the US Treasury and Google makes her ideally suited to increasing revenue in such a globally recognisable organisation as Facebook
  • She personifies the deceptively simple Facebook mission statement of making the world more open and connected, particular in terms of female empowerment
  • She operates in a truly global enterprise, and is highly adept at leading across cultures and territories

In short, Sheryl Sandberg is articulate, opinionated, operating highly successfully in a highly male dominated world, and the true embodiment of a modern, adaptive leader.

Can #thedress kill a cat?

It seems only fitting in the week that a dress of a many hues broke the internet, that we question the very nature of objective reality. Our entire Year 9 cohort at Burgess Hill School for Girls have been deconstructing classical mechanics and looking at the world with a quantum eye for the last two months. What is at question with #thedress is the way in which we human beings view the world, and for this I want to look at it in the way that Schrödinger looked at his cat.

Not a black/blue dress

So here is the issue – a grainy image of a dress appears on Tumblr. There is a debate about its colour. Some people see it as blue and black. Some people see it as white and gold. I see it as blue and gold, which apparently makes me unusual. The dress goes viral in a way that nobody would have possibly predicted, helped in no small amount by the likes of Taylor Swift proclaiming that she is “…confused and scared…” by the idea that not everybody sees the same colours in the dress.

Taylor swift in an existential crisis

Neuroscientists tell us that this difference in perception is due to the way that the brain makes sense of the light and shade picked up by the rods and cones in our eyes, and the Wired team posted a nice article where they confessed to (brief) “…existential spasm of despair…” by the difference, before then going on to explain the differences in terms of white colour balance.   All of which may be true, but I am most interested in why it has so quickly disseminated across most of the internet-connected globe, and I would warrant that Tumblr is no doubt grateful for all of the traffic that it generates.

Is it the fact that people are recognising that those thing which we perceive, and generally assume to know to be true, are in fact not necessarily true?  Is it the fact that we have had a mirror held up to our concepts of colour and knowledge itself? I know that the dress is blue and black, but I also know that the original image of the dress – white balance washout or not – is not in fact blue and black; it is blue and gold.  To me.  And yet to other people who are looking at the identical image, on an identical screen, stood right next to me – well they perceive it as white and gold, or blue and black.   To them they know it to have a different colour scheme. Interestingly, many people have perceived it as one colour on the Thursday, and then an entirely different colour the following day, and are now in a constant perceptive flip-flop that is at the very least confusing and at most poses quite deep questions.

I would therefore like to turn to Erwin Schrödinger and his cat – a thought experiment which he devised in 1935 to explain the problem of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics to what we normally perceive as reality.

Here the fictitious cat is placed into a sealed box, and attached to the lid of the box is a mechanism which will release a radioactive atom that, when activated, will instantly kill the cat inside the box. We do not know if the cat is alive or dead inside this box (Schrödinger could have placed an already dead cat in the box, which would be rather impolite) until we look inside – and it is the act of looking inside the box that makes the cat alive/dead. In other words, our entire knowledge of the cat is that it is both alive and dead at the same time until we open the box. In quantum mechanics the cat is in a state of superposition – both alive and dead simultaneously. This is clearly absurd. The cat has either one state or another – it patently cannot be both, and it is not an extra in The Walking Dead.   Only when the person holding the box opens it does the cat’s state change from being both alive and dead, and it actually becomes dead.

Schrödinger devised this sceptical scenario in order to highlight this absurdity, and the absurdity of what the then-new paradigm of quantum mechanics implied for science, and for reality itself.

However in the ensuing years quantum physicists have picked up this scenario and proclaimed it as quite real – real in the sense that it is in fact now possible for entities at the microscopically small scale – at the scale of photons and electrons – to be in two different states of reality at the same time. They have moved away from a thought experiment about cats, and onto actual reality itself – by splitting and entangling electrons into qubits that hold these multiple states of reality, they are now creating quantum computers with potentially stunning computational potential. Such computers are at the early stage of development, but are advanced enough to be bought by the likes of Lockheed-Martin, Nasa and Google.

What, though, does this say about #thedress? Let’s imagine a Schrödinger dress. A picture of the dress goes out over Tumblr. Different people perceive the dress in a different way – in other words they interpret reality in different ways. Many see blue/black, many see white/gold, I see blue/gold.   The dress is now holding more than one reality, like the cat in the box. Somebody needs to open the lid and look inside the box – at which point the superposition states of the dress will collapse into one real state.

This has already been achieved – the company who made the dress, Roman Originals, have already opened the box and told us that the dress is blue and black.

Clearly not white and gold

Can I see that the dress above is blue and black?  Of course.  Can I see that the dress below is blue and black?

Not a black/blue dress

Of course not. It is not blue and black. It is plainly blue and gold. How can other people look at this image and not see that? I know what colour light blue is, and this image has light blue bands, not white. White? Certainly not white. I know what black is, and I know what gold is. The other bands are golden. Clearly not black. Not to my perception of reality.

Now here is the rub – the box has been opened and Schrödinger’s dress has collapsed from multiple potential states of reality, multiple potential colours, from superposition, and it has collapsed into blue and black. I know this. Yet I also know that the image that I perceive up above this text has not collapsed into blue and black. It is still blue and gold.

In other words, despite what I know and what I am teaching about quantum mechanics, the dress that I am observing right now has not collapsed into one state or the other. It still retains multiple states of reality for me, and it seems to for many people.  Multiple states of reality for the people who are viewing the image – just let the sit in your mind for a while.  Am I really suggesting that multiple different realities might exist, even as we are flipping around from one perceptual reality to another?  Well, yes.

Who can save me from this existential crisis? Answers on a blue and gold postcard please.

(This article was inspired and edited by Mrs. G. Humphrey)