Writing about starquakes and quantum cats

by Stephanie Chasteen on January 17, 2012

I haven’t been doing much straight science journalism lately, having gotten my grubby mitts deep into science education and education research and seemingly unable to extract them.  But recently I was contracted to write some research pieces for JILA (an institute of CU-Boulder and NIST that focuses a lot on atomic and molecular physics, among others.

Two of those pieces have since been published.  The first was “Simulating a Starquake” which was a really fun little piece to write about how rearrangements of the crust of neutron stars results in the emission of gamma ray bursts.

The second was much harder — Schrodinger Cats Light the Way.  The topic — quantum spectroscopy — was very difficult to understand.  And then, to explain in a way that is at least somewhat understandable to a layperson, without being able to use terms like “quantum statistics” or “quantum state” (or explain what those terms mean), was a real challenge.  This one took exactly twice as long to write as the first one.  I think physics writers should get paid double, this stuff is hard.  It’s much easier to get the gist of some new evolutionary pathway of fish than it is to connect spectroscopy to strange quantum states to the inner workings of semiconductors.  I think the logical chains inherent in this stuff are really hard to weave into a tight story with a clear narrative arc.  I did the best I could!


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