Janet Rafner, a 2015 University of Virginia graduate in Physics and Studio Art, is currently in Denmark on a Fulbright scholarship. She is there to research new ways to create visualizations of complex phenomena in quantum physics. Did you get that? Her job is to figure out visually interesting ways to explain quantum physics to the rest of us. That is no small order, but Janet is doing just that. She has created an animated video with her colleague Pinja Haikka as part of her work with Professor Jacob Sherson and the ScienceAtHome project.
ScienceAtHome is a diverse team of scientists, game developers, designers and visual artists based at Aarhus University, Denmark. The team creates fun scientific games and engages citizen scientists to help physicists with cutting edge research. One of their games--Quantum Moves--presents players with challenges such as solving a difficult atomic transport problem. Around 100,000 players worldwide have played the game over 5 million times, and the gameplay provides scientists with ingenious solutions to the underlying quantum physics problem.
“The beauty of the game is that in just a few moments, you can gain some real intuitive insights as to how the quantum mechanics work,” explains Rafner. “Working with ScienceAtHome I was given an ideal opportunity to learn how gamification can educate, entertain, and achieve ground breaking research. Last year I was an intern at the Physics Reimagined project at the University of Paris Sud, and we did some great stop motion animations to teach about the process of physics research. For this video, I connected with my old colleagues and created an animation describing how the Quantum Moves game works and how it contributes to research for developing a quantum computer. The video is a huge success - as of today, the ScienceAtHome YouTube channel has over 55,800 views. The animation seems very simple, but the challenge is to explain and demystify something that is immensely complex in just a few minutes. It’s a very non-threatening format that tells the viewer, ‘Relax, this is going to be fun.’”
Rafner is no stranger to physics outreach. At UVA she was a National Physics Day presenter and curated an exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia titled “Call me Quantum.” So what’s next? She is managing a new game effort that explores turbulent flow. “Unlocking the theoretical basis of turbulent flow is one of the seven Millennial Problems in physics. Humans have an innate ability to interpret patterns and we hope to leverage that skill within a game to dramatically short cut some of the computational barriers.” Rafner is excited about this project because it involves collaborating with many outstanding people in the fields of physics, design, science communication, simulations, and public outreach. “We won’t just be doing research – we will be engaging the public online, in schools and through science museums and exhibits. It’s a chance to teach real science, and to learn about and celebrate how the human mind solves problems.”
You can download Quantum Moves from the App Store and Google Play and get ready to push the boundaries of scientific research by playing computer games!