by Jorge Cham

How do you make something that has never existed before?

I often get suggestions for comics I should draw, which I welcome because A) I like to think of PHD Comics as a global collaborative effort and B) after 17 years, I’m almost out of ideas. This particular suggestion came from Chen-Lung Hung, a postdoc in Physics at Caltech:

PANEL 1 – Ask a scientist: “What motivates you to do the research you do?”

PANEL 2 – What people expect them to answer: “This can lead to real-life applications such as A, B, C, D, etc.”

PANEL 3 – How a real scientist would answer: “Because it’s cool.”


Ok, granted, the punchline needs work. Chen-Lung also asked me to make it clear that his research has important real-life applications, should someone from NSF, who funds his work, happen to be reading this blog.

Chen-Lung’s work with Prof. Jeff Kimble of Caltech’s IQIM is the subject of the third installment in our animated series of explanations of Quantum concepts and devices.

“The problem with atoms,” Prof. Kimble said at one point during our 3-4 hour conversation, “is that they exist in three dimensional space.” I didn’t know that was a problem (unless you expect them to exist in more than 3 dimensions), but Jeff explained that it means it’s very hard to control Quantum systems because the world is wide open, and information can leak and be corrupted from any direction. After a entire academic career making breakthroughs with one type of Quantum System, he’s now directing his group towards a new, experimental type which they believe has more potential for building devices with many Quantum Objects. As Jeff says in the video, “It’s a privilege to be able to explore.”


Shaping light, trapping atoms, alligator waveguides… The goal, Jeff and Chen-lung explained, is to make systems that are “surprising.” Not surprisingly, it was really hard to draw this video. How do you depict something that has never existed before? And more importantly, do you draw alligators differently from crocodiles? (Did you know alligators only exist in two places in the world: the Southern part of the United States, and in China?).


Hopefully, those of you watching will get some understanding of some key Quantum concepts and what it takes to build and manipulate Quantum systems, but to be honest, I make these videos because I think the work is really cool.

Jeff and Chen-Lung: thanks for taking us along on this adventure of yours, the privilege is all ours.

Watch the third installment of this series:


Jorge Cham is the creator of Piled Higher and Deeper (www.phdcomics.com).


Featuring: Jeff Kimble and Chen-Lung Hung
Animated by Jorge Cham

Produced in Partnership with the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (https://iqim.caltech.edu) at Caltech with funding provided by the National Science Foundation and the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation.