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Changing fields

by Michael Nielsen on September 28, 2007

After 12 years of work on quantum information and quantum computation, I’ve decided to shift my creative work to a completely new direction.

I’m making this shift because I believe I can contribute more elsewhere.

I became interested in quantum information and computation in 1992, and started working fulltime on it in 1995. When I started it was a tiny little field with a handful of practitioners around the world. Most scientists hadn’t even heard of quantum computers. Those few who had would often use what they’d heard to pour cold water on the idea of ever being able to build one. Now, in 2007 the field is one of the hottest in physics, and many researchers, myself included, believe it is only a matter of time and concentrated effort before a large-scale quantum computer is built.

To me this seems a propitious time to change direction.

The new direction I’ll be working toward is the development of new tools for scientific collaboration and publication. This is a tremendously exciting area, and it’s also one where my skills and interests seem likely to be useful. I’m a beginner in the area, and so for the next few months, I’ll be doing a “reconnaissance in force”, orienting myself, figuring out what I need to learn, where I might be able to make a contribution, and launching some small projects. It ought to be a blast.

From → General

  1. Best wishes in your new projects! And thank you for all your works in this field, specially your book which was my inspiration to join to this field.

  2. First of all, congrats! Change is good and tough to carry out and I’m envious of your guts to do something new. Scientific collaboration / publication is definitely an exciting area.

    And second, of course we will miss you in quantum computing!

  3. The Vlad permalink

    Dear Michael,

    That’s great! Being a fellow alumnus of UQ, with a lay interest in physics, I followed your blog posts avidly.

    It’s probably far from a coincidence, but it turns out that I am currently reading your colleague Lee Smolin’s book “The Trouble with Physics.” In fact, just this morning I was reading the chapters on sociology and science. Riveting stuff, as Richie Benaud would say.

    Would I be wrong in guessing that Smolin, or Smolin’s book, has had some influence on your decision to change research fields?

    In any case, I would like to join the other posters in wishing you the best in the future.

    Many will say that your decision has taken courage, and while this is no doubt true, it’s clear that we need both a seer and a crafts-person to take the lead in revolutionizing a method that is badly in need of revolution. I am sure you are both.

    Just to balance out the soppy last paragraph, I will, however, remind you of the phrase that Sir Humphrey would always use on the PM in “Yes, Prime Minister”, whenever he felt the PM was making a big mistake: “That’s very courageous of you, Sir”!!! 🙂

  4. Hi Michael!

    Thank you so much for all you’ve done for quantum information research and for your wonderful book that accompanies me since my diploma.

    There is a great potential in the field of (open) scientific collaboration, and I wish you a lot of success and fun with your new projects!

  5. Michael,

    “Godspeed!” I hope you become very successful… for, at least in a small measure, we all shall profit from it (albeit all the fun will be yours ;-)!

    And, if my comment [on the previous guest-post by Robin] ever shows up… i’ll offer any help i can! 🙂


  6. cyberkid permalink

    Does it mean you’ll leave the field of physics research?

  7. cyberkid permalink

    It’ll be a pity if you’ll.

  8. fallever permalink

    Best wishes! However, I am new to the field of QIQC as an undergraduate in Physics, but I am still considering devote some time on this challenging project.
    Best wishes for you!And thank you so much for your contribution.

  9. Thanks for making this brave decision in a visible way. To those of us still searching for a specialty, it’s great to know that it doesn’t have to be ‘forever’.

    Thanks too for leaving quantum computing with a beautiful textbook that is helping me and many others get oriented.

  10. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Thankyou all for your well wishes! They are very, very greatly appreciated.

  11. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Vlad: I greatly enjoyed Lee’s book, but it wasn’t decisive in my decision. It did perhaps play some role in shaping my overall perspective.

  12. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    By the way, Vlad, are you still at UQ?

  13. aram permalink

    hi michael. i want to belatedly echo what dave said. and to say that i’m very much looking forward to seeing your next, and more meta-scientific, contributions.

  14. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Thanks Aram!

  15. Hi Mike,

    quite a bold step indeed, but a very interesting and a courageous one.

    (Maybe at same time as there is a heavy need for improving the media and the way we scientifically interact, we need to readjust the way we deal with the media and our figures of merit, to make sure that we read more and write less.)

    I wish you all the best for it! And, I am very much looking forward to see what you come up with – well, one thing I already saw.

    Best wishes, Jens

  16. Jon Tyson permalink

    Hey Mike,

    We’ll miss you. I hope your new stuff is as consistently interesting as your QI papers have been over the years!


  17. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Hi Jens,

    Thankyou for the well wishes! Yes, I think you are quite right, changing media formats will offer opportunities to change the way scientists are assessed, and may also change some of the cultural things about how science is done, hopefully for the better!


  18. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks! I do expect I’ll be around QI events (very) occasionally, on and off.

  19. Who didn’t see this coming?
    Fantastic. “We” need you.

  20. CSTAR permalink

    Hmmm. Is this a mind meld kinda thing?

  21. joe permalink

    Hi Michael,

    Others have mentioned it already, but I’d like to add my thanks for the awesome textbook you and Ike Chuang wrote. I still refer to it constantly, and stands as an example of how good mathematical/physics technical writing can be.

    I hope this change in direction doesn’t mark your complete departure from QC&I work, but nevertheless I wish you all the best in your efforts to transform scientific publishing. It certainly will be nice to have someone with your experience leading the effort.


  22. Frank permalink

    Great change which is going to be very very important in the 21th centrury, far more important than a technically interesting QIS paper.

  23. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Thankyou both, Joe and Frank!

  24. Eric Cavalcanti permalink

    That sounds really interesting!

    We definitely need someone of your intelligence and competence to help change the way we do, publish and evaluate science. Q. info. will definitely lose an important contributor, but science may have earned more with this switch. I sincerely hope you succeed!

    All the best!

  25. Michael Nielsen permalink*

    Thanks, Eric!

  26. Thnaks for creative activities for physics, especially quantum information and quantum computation. Motivated by your works, I often consider foundamental problems about quantum information. Now, I’m interested in new activities for science such as I have met the SciBarCamp at Toronto. I sincerely hope you succeed.

    Best wishes,

  27. Thanks Yutaka!

  28. Saied permalink

    I just read it that you have left quantum computing (QC). This is when I am trying so hard to get on the boat of QC. I can’t imagine why a person at the peak of produtivity in QC would leave it. Mike, I just want to know what you saw that I don’t see. I hope this is not a dumb question. I appreciate it if you (or some else) explain it to me.

    In any case, I wish you the best.

  29. Saied – as I said in the post, I think I can contribute more elsewhere. That’s a personal judgment of course. I simply believe that with my interests and abilities, it’s more fun and more valuable to be pursuing work on open science.

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