My short bio: I am Chris Ferrie, a quantum physicist working at the University of Sydney and Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems. In addition to academic research, I also write children's books.

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg shared a photo of himself reading one of my books to his daughter. It has received a bit of press coverage, but many think the book is actually fake!

I can assure you that Quantum Physics for Babies is very real. In fact, I've shared it on Reddit before:

I'm sure Zuck feels the same when I say that I can't help but think about the challenges my daughter will face if she wants follow in her father's footsteps to become a scientist. It would be great if I could use my 15 minutes to bring attention to the problems faced by women in STEM and the cultural barriers preventing more women from entering.

This is an extremely complex issue that has no simple solution (and for which band-aids only cause further harm). Specific to physics, one can find some concrete recommends for higher ed and high-school and below. Of particular relevance to me and my family at this point in time is #7:

Primary schools should reflect on the gender messages they may be giving to pupils, which may unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes, and work to remove them.

So here goes---physics, self-publishing, academia, parenthood---AMA!

Also soliciting advice on any of the above ;)

My Proof:

Comments: 107 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

beek1312 karma

How has the study of quantum physics altered your personal philosophy and attitude? Not related to books for children but I've always wanted to ask!

csferrie9 karma

Good question. Since I spent so much time at the Perimeter Institute---which has some of greatest minds in physics---as a graduate student, I feel like I got to learn quantum physics by being thrown in to the deep end. As quantum physics is a probabilistic theory, I thought I ought to really understand probability theory first. Turns out, for me anyway, deeply understanding probability and statistics has changed my world view far more than quantum physics has.

thedarkkni9ht2 karma

Hmm... Interesting, how so? Do you make decisions differently based on what you've learned about calculating probability and evaluating them and statistics?

csferrie7 karma

Short answer: I am a Bayesian. I strive (but rarely succeed) to make explicit my prior information and understand that probabilistic statements are logical deductions rather than physical one.

jointheredditarmy3 karma

So at its core isn't quantum mechanics physically probabilistic?

csferrie6 karma

Quantum mechanics is a logical construct invented by humans. If it expresses uncertainty, it is our own.

ThePaxCanadiana11 karma

What is your response to the one star Amazon review of your book: "Way too simple."?

csferrie25 karma

Well, there is Quantum Entanglement for Babies for advanced babies.

ThePaxCanadiana6 karma

Now we're talking.

csferrie5 karma

Can you fix that one star review now? ;)

ThePaxCanadiana5 karma

Seriously not my review. I thought it was worth making light of it.

csferrie24 karma

Yeah, I know. It really doesn't bother me. I've been given much harsher critiques playing League of Legends.

paswardUW10 karma

Hi Prof Ferrie!

Do you remember the class that you taught MATH 117 to at uWaterloo from Sept 2012 to Dec 2012? When you had your weed need?


csferrie8 karma

The old Freudian slip...

nyteaic7 karma

Hi Professor Ferrie!

I was actually a student in your math117 class at the University of Waterloo! :D

I'm glad that you brought up the topic of women in STEM; as a woman myself, I've experienced sexual discrimination both in class and during coop jobs. Although severely underreported, there is actually a quite prevalent and disgusting trend of sexual harassment towards women in STEM co-op positions that myself and many of my female peers have experienced. The stereotype of the young, hot intern is a particular damaging portrayal of young women in our field. Most women going into their first internships or starting their careers are afraid to report these types of harassment because they are afraid of repercussions.

How do you feel that society and male engineers should respond to these stereotypes? How should universities support women in STEM who, during their internships, face male coworkers or managers who are sexually forward towards them?

csferrie9 karma

First, it's sickening to hear stories like this. I'm sorry you had to experience that. Everyone should be outraged at this.

I think it is important that these stories are told because it's likely the case that most of us are just not aware of what goes on. More importantly, most of us just don't understand what constitutes harassment and are often blind to it.

Even when we do, from my experiences---which fortunately is few---I find that bystanders (coworkers, other managers, administrators, etc) just don't know how to react. We need to do more than train people on what is and what is not acceptable but also on how to prevent or stop harassment as an observer.

I'm not an expert on this, mind you. So please, others chime in and, most importantly, the rest of you listen!

CynicalSoup5 karma

What is your favourite section of a typical grocery store?

csferrie5 karma

In Albuquerque: chips and salsa. So much variety!

In Sydney: muesli. So much variety!

Smartnership5 karma

Where do you come down on the simulation hypothesis? Is C actually just the maximum computational speed of the simulation?

Last, do you let yourself wonder about how entangled pairs do their thing once one of them is measured? TIA

csferrie3 karma

Not something I've heard about. But if this is what you are talking about, I am about as pragmatic about physics as one can get. So I must first ask, what does idea teach us about how we can manipulate and control the world around us?

Smartnership3 karma

That's the one.

As to the mechanism of entangled pairs correlating, I would hope that might teach us about a deeper level of physics.

I think Bohr was of the practical, "shut up and calculate" school of thought, so there's nothing wrong with that obviously.

csferrie3 karma

Keep in mind that pragmatism still requires deep thinking. It's not at all about "shutting up and calculating." Nor do I recommend not thinking about the simulation hypothesis. We don't want all our eggs in one basket.

jnetelle5 karma

Hi. What got you interested in writing children's books?

csferrie7 karma

I read The Pythagorean Theorem Babies and thought, hey, I could probably do that for physics! Turns out, self-publishing is surprisingly easy. It's getting celebrity endorsement that's the hard part ;)

DoomLexus4 karma

It would be great if I could use my 15 minutes to bring attention to the problems faced by women in STEM[10] and the cultural barriers preventing more women from entering.

Do you think that this problem is societal or that it is institutional? If societal, why don't we just not worry about it because the Lenski's posit that time heals all societal inequalities?

Thanks for doing this AMA, I think that your book is really ... interesting to say the least!

csferrie2 karma

Even if I granted you that time would heal, by what process? And why not just accelerate it to help the people that desperately need it today?

DeadSeriousNotReally4 karma

Are you into Vsauce?

csferrie1 karma

Never heard of it. You think it's relevant to my interests?

frederek4 karma

who is the smartest person you've ever met?

csferrie3 karma

I've met Nobel Laureates, Fields Medalists, prodigies and professors. And you know what? None of them were any smarter than the rest.

GenericJeans4 karma

Thanks for the heads up on this. Never knew it existed and thought yesterday's picture was a joke. I just bought the Quantum and Newtonian Physics books. Can't wait to read them with my 3 year old. Maybe I'll have my older boys read it too him as well.

Any tips on the subject? I didn't make it past Algebra or Chemistry!


csferrie1 karma

Thank you!

Tips? Practice practice practice! Just like becoming a professional violinist, it takes years of experience to master the fundamentals---in this case, mathematics.

Being able to appreciate physics without the fundamentals is problem us scientists need to better at solving.

YuvalRishu3 karma

If you could eliminate one misconception about quantum physics from the human species, what would that misconception be and why would you want it eliminated?

csferrie8 karma

That average gate fidelities should be compared to threshold calculations. trololollol

csferrie7 karma

Okay, honest reply: that particles can be in two places at once because, well, it's not true.

fireflystorm3 karma

Why do people think the Mark Zuckerburg picture is fake?

csferrie2 karma

Probably because of this Mashable article. No idea where the author got the idea.

acesrivered3 karma

How did Mark get his hands on your book?

Other note... I just bought your book off of Amazon for my newest niece. I am so excited to read it to her!

csferrie2 karma

Thanks! I have no idea where Mark got my book. My guess? It was a gift.

frederek3 karma

do you believe in free will?

csferrie3 karma

Not only do I beleive it, I practice it!

frederek2 karma

that's interesting.... can you elaborate on that view? i'm interested in the explanation of a physicist--if all physical processes are determined, including those in our brain, how is it possible for us to make "free" decisions?

csferrie2 karma

I do not grant that all physical processes are determined.

darkdude1033 karma

So It is theoretically possible to time travel to the future and travel from the future to an earlier point in the future but do you think it would be possible to travel from the present to the past?

csferrie1 karma

You may have just done it.

darkdude1031 karma

If that was the case my life would be much easier

csferrie2 karma

Go on.

Culturally-Confused2 karma

Can you explain how the 'Emdrive' works?

csferrie1 karma

No, I cannot. Presumably, these people could, though.

summerromance2 karma

In pharmacy, there is a 70% female/30% male split. That's not because males are underrepresented or discriminated against in the field, but because males are less interested in pharmacy in general. How do you know that is not the same case for STEM? Maybe females are simply less interested in STEM than males. Not every profession has a 50/50 split, and just because they don't doesn't mean they are discriminating against one gender. Females and males could just have different career preferences.

csferrie2 karma

While that may be true, you have to ask yourself why. I mean, shouldn't it be obvious that women prefer not to enter a field already full of men and stories of harassment?

Suppose for the moment that we instantly replaced every man in a professional STEM position with a woman. Do you think the 97% women who enter a STEM degree but don't end up in STEM would change their preference?

The_Swarm_Hut2 karma

Has Mark ever asked to meet you?

csferrie5 karma


odd_pancake2 karma

Hello! What advice would you give a student who is interested in studying Quantum Physics later in life?

csferrie1 karma

I don't see why age in particular should matter. In fact, we have a grad student in our group that is older than his advisor.

odd_pancake2 karma

I'm not saying that age matters... I'm just wondering if you have any tips you could give me, as I want to study quantum physics later in life once I'm done with school.

csferrie1 karma

My point was that the general advice given to you should be the same as anyone else. Though, mature students often have circumstances requiring unique advice.

Anyway, general advice: learn linear algebra and Python. Then PM me.

teddyr932 karma

Is there a General Relativity for Babies in the making? I think it's sad that there isn't a good tool to help toddlers learn to calculate Christoffel Symbols -- what are they supposed to do, look it up on youtube?

csferrie2 karma

Is this what the pint-sized fans are calling for?

MeteorCityPlaza2 karma

I have written a children's picture book. Amazon create space looks like it adds too much to the cost. How would you suggest I self publish? Do you have any specific services to reccomend?

csferrie1 karma

I use CreateSpace and am quite happy with them. Though, I think the paper quality has gone done down since I started with them 3 years ago. Could you be more specific with your concern with the cost?

0x0co2 karma

I've heard with those second hand Byton-compressors that spine tingling is a result of second-order harmonics causing a Doppler shift in radiation. Is this true?

csferrie3 karma

Sounds like all those words are used in the right context. So, yes, it is true.

heisnotanalienreally-1 karma

What about black people in STEM? Or people from lower-income families? Do you think upper-middle-class women are at more of a disadvantage than lower-income black people? Why did you feel it was necessary to mention Women in STEM in your IAMA at all? Is it pure virtue signalling? Do you think we should stop patronising people?

Given all the problems in the world, it boggles my mind that this one 'issue' gets so much attention. It seems to me, it is more that is the 'cause' everyone has to say they are for - nothing to do with helping people but saying the 'rights easy thing and appearing virtuous. I don't buy it for a second.

csferrie1 karma

Fair question. After all, checking my privilege here... yep, I am a white male. But if people like me don't say anything, none of these problems will be resolved.

Why women? Why not? Seems like an important global issue independent of race and income. In India, there is no problem with Indians in STEM, but there is a problem with women in STEM. In China, there is no problem with Chinese in STEM, but there is a problem with women in STEM... they are underrepresented everywhere.

heisnotanalienreally1 karma

Women are different and make different choices. There is no conspiracy or structural barriers. In fact it would seem the more equal societies become the less likely we are to see women in STEM.

I have no idea why we people say there ought to be a 50/50 split. Considering how different genetically men and women are....

csferrie4 karma

You are like a person covered in shit asking what stinks. Get ready to have your mind blown... it's you bro. Your moronic opinion represents a large part of the actual problem.

To be clear, there is no evidence that women are less capable than men at any intellectual task. Given that fact, you want a 50/50 split in any discipline. Otherwise, you do have the best people doing the job.

heisnotanalienreally0 karma

For someone so educated, you're not great at reading. At no point did I see there is evidence that women are less capable. It is not through less being less capable than women do not take up STEM as much as men (obviously some women do and that's fine), it is simply through having different (biologically determined) interests. And that's fine. Hormonal states affect how people think. Sorry. You know why there is no STEM problem in China? Because people don't have any fucking choice. In the West, it is not like that. Maybe you stick to science where you don't have to deal with such grayness. By the way, why women in STEM? What about women as mechanics? Or women getting blown to pieces in the military? What about women picking up trash?

(Notice that you couldn't resist a cheap ad hominem despite my replies being nothing less than civil to you. I don't get it. Is asking questions and debate bad? Is QUESTIONING things so bad? I bet you're one of these beta guys who preaching about being so for women but watching the nastiest porn behind the scenes... That said, I imagine as an academic you don't have much academic freedom anymore. Realistically it would be bad for your career to question this position and you it certainly wouldn't help bag that sweet-white-well-brought-up-well-educated-but-oh-so-oppressed-female-feminist-academic pussy )

csferrie0 karma

Do you even trol?

window5-4 karma

I do not follow what problems women have in STEM fields. If a person wants to study and work in the science field how are they stopped by anything but talent and hard work?

csferrie5 karma

There is institutionalized gender inequality in all aspects of life. So why would you expect STEM to be any different? You want actual numbers? For STEM it is 3:1 male-to-female ratio. There is no easy answer as to why and how to fix it. The PDFs I linked to in my post discuss the issue as it pertains to astronomy, but I suspect that most of the observations and arguments generalize to other fields (perhaps even more so).