At a science communication seminar at OMSI on April 21st, I participated in several science writing exercises with science writer Katherine Kornei. This assignment was to write an article about our research with a particular publication in mind. This piece was written for Wired.
Headline (an attention-grabbing statement): Bounce at Will
Subhead (expands on the headline; provides more detail): Computer simulations can use random chance to gain new insights into the quantum life of molecules
Lede (one sentence about the main result and its implications): Computational chemists are using random chance to their advantage in an algorithm called Quantum Monte Carlo to discover the secrets of enigmatic molecules.
Body paragraphs (what did the scientists do; what did they find; implications):
Scientists can recognize molecules through the patterns of light they absorb (or emit) in a process called spectroscopy. These patterns of light are determined by how the atoms in the molecule bounce and move relative to each other—but some molecules refuse to play by the rules.
CH5+, the chemical white whale of spectroscopy, is one of these molecules. Its atoms flop around each other in such strange ways, its pattern of light just looks like noise to spectroscopy equipment. Quantum Monte Carlo may be the answer.
Monte Carlo algorithms are, as you may expect, named after the famous Monte Carlo casino. These algorithms rely on random chance, and careful supervision, to calculate non-random information. Quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) is a breed of Monte Carlo that specifically focuses on quantum systems, such as molecules.
QMC isn’t tripped up by the strangeness of the molecule’s flops; its random number generator runs through them like a juggernaut.
I ended my writing here, since I don’t have any news-worthy results yet! But I enjoyed writing this little snippet about my research.