IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

jIAPS April Article of the Month: What Quantum Mechanics Can Tell Us About Mental Health

Author: 🇵🇭 Harvey Sapigao

In celebration of World Quantum Day 2023, the jIAPS Article of the Month is quantum-themed.


“Oh, so you study physics. What are you going to be? A physician?”

We often get this comment after telling people our degree. The confusion is understandable; ‘physician’ and ‘physicist’ do sound alike, have similar etymologies (both coming from the Latin word ‘physica’), and might as well mean one or the other in a parallel universe. But I once got a remark that I was going to be a psychologist, which I thought was a bit of a stretch. 

We often think concepts in physics are so far removed from psychology, other than the fact that working with the Schrodinger equation can make our brains hurt. But physics, especially in the realm of quantum mechanics, is actually helping explain things about our minds, and these insights might also help us with our own mental well-being.

The obvious connection between quantum mechanics and psychology is that our brains are composed of matter, and matter, on the subatomic level, behaves quantum mechanically. Neurons typically communicate by passing ions to one another (1). The channels through which these ions pass are only fractions of nanometers thick – small enough for quantum effects to occur (2). In fact, the transmission of ions has shown to be compatible with quantum tunneling models (3). This is a stark departure from the classical notion that ions simply pass through channels like balls through tubes.

But the contribution of quantum mechanics goes far beyond neurons and ions. We now know that elementary particles don’t just strictly behave as particles; they also behave as waves. And just as there is a wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics, there is an analogous paradox in psychology: the mind-brain duality (also known as the mind-body duality, or ‘bodymind’) (4).

When classical physics was the only version of reality we knew, the idea of the mind and the brain was that of a dualism, not duality (5). That is, the mind and the brain were thought to be two completely different things. The thoughts, feelings, experiences, and everything that cannot be represented by matter were separated from those that can. ‘Mental’ states were separated from ‘physical’ states much like how waves were separated from particles.

René Descartes popularized this dualism and was named after him (5). Cartesian dualism is a seemingly innocuous – even helpful – dichotomy, but it has actually contributed to the mental health stigma we are facing to this day (6,7). This dualism has contributed to the notion that mental problems are very different from physical ones, and so, in many countries still, psychiatric hospitals are separated from general hospitals (7). Throughout history, treatments for the mentally ill have often been very different from those for the physically ill, and even the phrase ‘mentally ill’ has a negative connotation (7,8). Cartesian dualism has also contributed to the common misconception that mental issues are “all in the mind” and can be treated with having the right mindset (6).

Quantum mechanics brought the idea that reality wasn’t as cut and dry as we thought it was. Atoms can be in a superposition of states: a wave and a particle. And so, duality was born. This helped us understand that mental health might be both a mental and a physical affair; a duality – not dualism – of the mind and the brain.

Needless to say, mental health is not the same as physical health. But the two are not so dissimilar that treatments for the former were once thought of as witchcraft and the latter as medical science, as was the case in the time of Descartes (9). Indeed, research suggests that psychiatric drugs are just as effective in treating mental illnesses as other medical drugs are in treating physical illnesses (10). However, since mental health is also dependent on the mind, other treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or talk therapy, also work (11). Psychiatric drugs address the problem in a physical sense while talk therapy addresses it in a mental sense, and yet one can be as effective as the other.


We know that the physical aspect (the brain) is made of matter (quite literally, the gray and white matter), but what exactly is the mental aspect (the mind)?

Elementary particles – electrons, photons, quarks, etc. – are the smallest units of matter, and in quantum mechanics they come in discrete units called quanta. In psychology, a similar concept arises: the qualia (12). Qualia describes a unit of subjective experience; it is the color yellow as perceived by our eyes; the note A-flat as perceived by our ears; the feeling of tingles as perceived by our skin. That’s qualia. And whether or not we like the look of yellow, or the sound of A-flat, or the sensation of tingles, is also qualia. Put together, these hints of experiences make up our consciousness, and our consciousness, in essence, is what we have been calling the mind. Indeed, qualia make up the mind just as quanta (elementary particles) make up the brain, and that the mind-brain is the quality and quantity of a human.

An important feature of consciousness is that it is personal. It is based on our own subjective experiences; we all see colors, hear notes, feel sensations, differently. Moreover, we experience things in only one way: our own. Therefore, equating one’s own experiences to those of another is not only futile, but also impossible.

But some argue that consciousness is merely the result of matter interacting with one another; they are simply the result of neurons and ions playing around. There are, of course, conscious processes that can be mapped out in the brain; for example, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain near the forehead – activates whenever we act in a conscious manner, such as speaking, as opposed to, say, snoring while sleeping (13,14). But how consciousness emerges from the ‘lighting up’ of those neurons is still a mystery.

Consider a classic example in philosophy: the ‘chairness’ of a chair. Different materials, such as wood, metal, and plastic, can be used to make a chair. When these materials meet our rudimentary standard of what a chair is — something that can be sat on, have legs, and stand on its own — they become a chair. These properties emerge as special characteristics of a chair, but are not intrinsic to the wood, metal, or plastic from which the chair is made. Only when these materials are arranged in a particular way do they acquire these properties; wood, for example, cannot be sat on, have legs, and stand on its own unless it is assembled as a chair. These properties — the chairness of a chair — seem to appear out of nowhere, beyond the physicality of the materials.

Consciousness seems to appear out of nowhere, too. These networks of neurons are intertwined in a way that makes consciousness emerge. Consciousness is not a property of a bunch of neurons, just as chairness is not a property of a bunch of wood. But arrange them like a live brain, and consciousness emerges.

The idea that we are nothing more than the result of interactions of matter is called ‘materialism’ (15). Materialists think that consciousness is an illusion, as is the chairness of a chair. This view was especially popular before quantum mechanics, when all we knew about the world was in terms of balls revolving around bigger balls (whether that be electrons revolving around the nucleus or planets revolving around the sun).

Now, some find materialism difficult to accept. As we now know, funky stuff happens in the quantum realm, and most, if not all, cannot be expressed in terms of definite, intact balls. If the materialists are right, what would then be the difference between an alive and a dead person, if all there is to them are essentially balls? How did a bunch of mindless, zombie atoms conspire to create a brain-full, alive-and-kicking human being? Philosopher William Luijpen mentioned a contradiction among materialists: they philosophize and classify themselves as the same with chairs and tables, yet philosophizing and classifying are actions chairs and tables cannot do (16).

Still, what consciousness really is (and if it even exists) remains contentious in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and more recently, artificial intelligence. But one of the most commonly accepted views today is that consciousness coexists with matter, and we cannot be human without having one or the other. If we lose consciousness forever, we become corpses (a.k.a dead), and if we lose matter forever, we become, in paranormal terms, a ‘soul’* (a.k.a dead).


One of the interpretations of quantum mechanics, the von Neumann-Wigner Interpretation, assumes that consciousness exists. John von Neumann and Eugene Wigner’s interpretation was inspired by the earlier Copenhagen Interpretation.

Naturally, in a quantum mechanics sense, the wave/particle’s state is a cloud of probability; the state is indefinite, having no exact value. Its state can only be described in a probabilistic curve based on its wave function. But upon measurement, the wave/particle instantaneously evolves into a single state; the wave function ‘collapses’ and becomes a single, definite value. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, the mere act of measuring alters the wave/particle’s state from its probabilistic nature to an exact and determined value (17).

However, the Copenhagen Interpretation did not address what constitutes a measurement, a conundrum known as ‘the measurement problem.’ To solve this problem, von Neumann injects into it the idea of consciousness, where he postulated that a conscious being (i.e. humans) must be doing the measuring (18). According to him, every state exists indefinitely in a soup of superposition and quantum probabilities until they encounter a human, which collapses them into single states. The states then cascade like dominoes, eventually creating a definite reality which we call the universe.

Von Neumann determined three processes at play. The first, called ‘process 1’ or ‘the Heisenberg choice,’ is the conscious choice, or more familiarly called the free will, of the observer on how to act or go about acting. It is the process that collapses probability into certainty. But before states collapse (i.e. undergo process 1), they first exist in states of clouds of probability, a process von Neumann called ‘process 2.’ Process 2 generates and superposes virtually all possible outcomes of the universe. The third process, called ‘process 3’ or ‘Dirac choice,’ is the outcome that arises from processes 1 and 2. Process 3 is the reality as a result of the clouds of probability (process 2) being collapsed by humans (process 1).

It is worth noting that a measurement is not limited to looking or observing or using a microscope. Measurement, as in the context of process 1, occurs at a more fundamental level, affecting a bunch of neurons and ions first before affecting bigger devices, such as the eyes, then the microscope, and so on (it cascades like dominoes).

What’s interesting about the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation is that it assumes reality arises as a result of consciousness. It puts us as the agents of the universe; one that makes things happen as opposed to one that happens as a result of. It’s not that we are the consequence of the universe, but that our conscious decisions create consequences in the universe. If the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation is true, it can have profound implications on the way we view life.


Wave-particle and mind-brain. Qualia and quanta. Consciousness and matter. All convenient parallelisms in the world of psychology and physics. But how do these apply to our own mental well-being? The paper “Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A Neurophysical Model of Mind–Brain Interaction” by Jeffrey Schwartz, Henry Stapp, and Mario Beauregard attempts to explain how mental effort manifests into the world around us, borrowing concepts from quantum mechanics in describing the mind-brain interaction (19).

The paper first points out the problem that arises when we only look at psychology through the classical (deterministic) lens, which assumes that our consciousness is merely a by-product of the neurons from which our brains are made, and therefore has no ability to affect the physical world. Consciousness can be thought of as a hologram, where it is there but cannot move objects around it, and is thus an illusion.

Yet multiple studies have shown that consciousness does affect the physical world. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been highly effective in treating mental illnesses such as unipolar depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder (20). Neuroimaging has revealed that significant changes in the brain occur after CBT sessions of patients with phobic disorders (21). People with obsessive-compulsive disorders have even been able to reduce their habits through willful action (22). This phenomenon has become an active area of research since the 1990s and has been termed ‘self-directed neuroplasticity’ (22).

Self-directed neuroplasticity is the ability to alter the neuronal circuitry of our brains through willful effort, allowing us to rewire our brains to match the way we want to think. Because our brains are plastic and malleable, and because consciousness can affect the physical world, controlling our consciousness has a direct consequence in the universe – a phenomenon that couldn’t be explained by the classical model of physics.

The paper then goes on to argue that the mind-brain interaction is explained by the processes mentioned in the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation. Process 1, according to them, “describes an interaction between a person’s stream of consciousness, described in mentalistic terms, and an activity in their brain, described in physical terms.” That is, process 1 bridges the gap between the mental mind and the physical brain; it facilitates the interaction between the mind and the brain.

Process 1 is further divided into two: the passive and active process 1. The passive version, as the name suggests, does not require much conscious thought, while the active version requires conscious effort. It is akin to voluntary and involuntary actions of muscles; heart contraction is involuntary (and thus is passive), whereas weight-lifting is voluntary (and thus is active).

The active and passive processes also differ in a variable called ‘attention density’ – the amount of attention exerted in a period of time. The authors described attention density as “the rapidity of process 1 events.” In other words, it is the number of measurements done per time interval (recall that process 1 is the act of measuring by a conscious being). The active process requires a higher attention density compared to the passive process; the active process measures a quantum system much more frequently than the passive process.

A quantum system, if left unchecked for a period of time, will evolve into a superposition. For example, if the wave function of the quantum system, at t = 0 ns, gives a 100% probability to ‘yes’ and 0% to ‘no’, after some time, say 1 ns, the quantum system will evolve into 90% ‘yes’ and 10% ‘no’. After 2 ns, the system becomes 80% ‘yes’ and 20% ‘no’, and so on. This is how quantum systems evolve through time, only that it has no pattern; the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ probabilities oscillate unpredictably, albeit gradually, over time.

Now, if we measure a quantum system, it will collapse into a single state; the system collapses into 100% ‘yes’ and 0% ‘no.’ If we do this multiple times, the system will collapse every time. If we do this rapidly and much more frequently, the quantum system will not have enough time to evolve into a superposition; the system will ‘freeze’ into a 100% ‘yes’ and 0% ‘no’ so long as we keep measuring it rapidly. This effect is called the quantum Zeno effect (23).

The active process, according to the authors, produces the quantum Zeno effect. Since the active process has high attention density (high measurement frequency), it produces the quantum Zeno effect in a quantum system. Therefore, if we exert mental effort (which increases attention density and thus invokes the active process), we can essentially control a quantum system, and consequently whatever is connected to that system.

The implication of this is that we are, indeed, agents of the universe rather than mere products of it. We have control over our actions and we have the freedom to choose. This realization can be immediately beneficial to the nihilistic, but those who are struggling with other mental issues can also learn from the paper. If we are willing to do something (such as wanting to get better, or, at least, believing that we can), it has a chance of materializing, which is much less bleak than not having control at all.

The authors explicitly state this implication, saying that the importance of a patient’s willingness and commitment to get treated is essential. They said that “it takes effort for people to achieve therapeutic results. That is because it requires a redirection of the brain’s resources away from lower level limbic responses and toward higher level prefrontal functions—and this does not happen passively.” Moreover, “clinical success is jeopardized by a belief on the part of either therapists or patients that their mental effort is an illusion or a misconception.”

Of course, the paper hinges on the fact that the Von Neumann-Wigner interpretation must be true for their conclusions to be true. But, if I may be philosophical for a bit (being careful not to mistake ‘physicists’ for ‘philosophers’), I find it comforting to think there is an inkling of a chance that we live in a universe where we have authority over our choices; where we have free will; where our lives are not set in stone.

If consciousness is an illusion and the universe is deterministic, what then separates us from algorithms and Twitter bots and Dall-E? What laws of physics enabled us to contemplate and ruminate and have existential crises? What is stopping us from becoming just cogs in a machine?

If that really is the case, I’m glad we don’t know. It leaves room for imagination, for thoughts, for feelings, for opinions, and for beliefs. And even if some think opinions and beliefs disparage humans more than enhance them, that in itself is an opinion or belief which they hold. In a way, we are living in a superposition, and we can only guess our states. But not knowing is what comforts me. It is the bliss of ignorance. And this is what I choose.

* This is only for representational purposes, as the idea of a soul contradicts the mind-brain duality. According to the theory, consciousness cannot exist by itself, so a soul should not exist on its own (and caught-on-camera “ghost” videos are only pareidolias). The belief that they do exist is called “spiritualism,” which Luijpen thought was as flawed as materialism.


  1. Lall S. How do neurons communicate (so quickly)? [Online] MIT McGovern Institute. MIT; Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  2. Cataldi M, Perez-Reyes E, Tsien RW. Differences in apparent pore sizes of low and high voltage-activated ca2+ channels. Journal of Biological Chemistry. [Online] 2002;277(48): 45969–45976. Available from: doi:10.1074/jbc.m203922200 
  3. Nawafleh S, Qaswal AB, Alali O, Zayed FM, Al-Azzam AM, Al-Kharouf K, et al. Quantum mechanical aspects in the pathophysiology of neuropathic pain. Brain Sciences. [Online] 2022;12(5): 658. Available from: doi:10.3390/brainsci12050658 
  4. Eastman T. Duality without dualism – California State University, Sacramento. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  5. Robinson H. Dualism. [Online] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University; Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  6. Mehta N. Mind-body dualism: A critique from a health perspectivefnx08. Mens Sana Monographs. [Online] 2011;9(1): 202. Available from: doi:10.4103/0973-1229.77436 
  7. Latoo J, Mistry M, Alabdulla M, Wadoo O, Jan F, Munshi T, et al. Mental health stigma: The role of dualism, uncertainty, causation and treatability. General Psychiatry. [Online] 2021;34(4). Available from: doi:10.1136/gpsych-2021-100498 
  8. Talking about mental health. [Online] Mental Health Foundation. Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  9. Mental illness in the 16th and 17th centuries. [Online] Historic England. Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022]
  10. Leucht S, Hierl S, Kissling W, Dold M, Davis JM. Putting the efficacy of psychiatric and general medicine medication into perspective: Review of Meta-Analyses. British Journal of Psychiatry. [Online] 2012;200(2): 97–106. Available from: doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.096594 
  11. Hofmann SG, Asnaani A, Vonk IJ, Sawyer AT, Fang A. The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research. [Online] 2012;36(5): 427–440. Available from: doi:10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1 
  12. Tye M. Qualia. [Online] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University; Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  13. Raccah O, Block N, Fox KCR. Does the prefrontal cortex play an essential role in consciousness? insights from intracranial electrical stimulation of the human brain. The Journal of Neuroscience. [Online] 2021;41(10): 2076–2087. Available from: doi:10.1523/jneurosci.1141-20.2020 
  14. Bartels A. Consciousness: What is the role of prefrontal cortex? Current Biology. [Online] 2021;31(13). Available from: doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.012 
  15. Materialism. [Online] Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.; Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  16. Luijpen W. Man, The Metaphysical Being. Existential phenomenology. Pittsburgh, Duquesne University; 1960. p. 17.  
  17. Faye J. Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. [Online] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University; Available from: [Accessed: 8thDecember2022] 
  18. Neumann JV, Beyer RT, Neumann JV. The Measuring Process. Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 1955. p. 418.  
  19. Schwartz JM, Stapp HP, Beauregard M. Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. [Online] 2005;360(1458): 1309–1327. Available from: doi:10.1098/rstb.2004.1598 
  20. Butler A, Chapman J, Forman E, Beck A. The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Clinical Psychology Review. [Online] 2006;26(1): 17–31. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2005.07.003 
  21. Klumpp H, Fitzgerald DA, Angstadt M, Post D, Phan KL. Neural response during attentional control and emotion processing predicts improvement after cognitive behavioral therapy in generalized social anxiety disorder. Psychological Medicine. [Online] 2014;44(14): 3109–3121. Available from: doi:10.1017/s0033291714000567 
  22. Schwartz JM. Neuroanatomical aspects of cognitive-behavioural therapy response in obsessive-compulsive disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry. [Online] 1998;173(S35): 38–44. Available from: doi:10.1192/s0007125000297882 
  23. Misra B, Sudarshan EC. The zeno’s paradox in quantum theory. Journal of Mathematical Physics. [Online] 1977;18(4): 756–763. Available from: doi:10.1063/1.523304 
IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

The Quantum Now: Let’s Celebrate World Quantum Day!

Author: Zlatan Vasović

Have you ever thought that physics is missing its international day? A new initiative by quantum scientists around the world could just change that— an initiative to celebrate April 14 as World Quantum Day. Its main goal is to promote quantum science and technology around the world.

The importance of quantum has been growing, and so has the need to promote the understanding and achievements of quantum science. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 confirms this—it was awarded to Anton Zeilinger, Alain Aspect, and John F. Clauser for their work on tackling fundamental questions of quantum mechanics. This gives us a special occasion to celebrate the fundamentals of quantum science, its applications, and its possible impact on our society.

World Quantum Day originally started as a decentralized initiative by scientists around the world. It was launched on April 14, 2021, as the countdown towards the first celebration on April 14, 2022. The date was chosen as a reference to 4.14, the rounded first digits of Planck’s constant: 4.13567×10-15 eV·s.

The first World Quantum Day was celebrated in 2022 through 200+ events in 40+ countries. The events promoted all domains of quantum science, as well as its history, foundations, applications, and philosophical and societal implications. There are both online and in-person events, meaning that you can take part wherever you are in the world. 

Now the second celebration is just around the corner. It’s set for April 14, 2023, but the events don’t have to be on that exact date. You can find more information on how to engage at

Let’s celebrate World Quantum Day!

Editor’s Note – jIAPS is celebrating World Quantum Day too: the April photo competition is Quantum themed and is listed on the World Quantum Day website. Enter your quantum or physics-themed photos by emailing them to us at

IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

PhD in a Pandemic

Author: Chukwuma Anoruo, University of Nigeria

Illustrated by Harvey Sapigao

Chukwuma Anoruo is a postgraduate student of the University of Nigeria. He is the lead author of a recent study (1) which found that the anomalies in total electron content (TEC) in the African region ionosphere during the initial and recovery stages of geomagnetic storms are more pronounced in the low latitude region. This study showed that the physics of the ionosphere at mid- and low-latitudes of the African region is needed to understand the rate of change of TEC. This was demonstrated using the example of the geomagnetic storm on 19th February 2014. Anoruo analysed storm-time changes from global navigation satellite system (GNSS) data using the African Geodetic Reference Frame (AFREF) network.

Anoruo’s career started with a BS in Physics and MS in ‘Physics of the Lower Atmosphere’, where he majored in aerosols, carbon dioxide measurements and air quality monitoring. He describes the experience as ‘excellent’ and enjoyed completing field work exercises as well as contributing to the group review of the Intercontinental Panel of Climate Change.

Anoruo describes his experience of being a PhD student during the global pandemic:

‘I started as a PhD student in 2018 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. During the early stages of my doctoral program, I started to read more manuscripts, textbooks, attend conferences, workshops and engage in space weather discussions through Twitter and other social media. I experienced challenges, including the struggle to obtain funding to complete a PhD. One particular challenge was that I was given accommodation far from the University campus. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made an impact on the lifestyle of Early-Career Researchers (ECRs). The situation of ECRs in Nigeria was already difficult before the pandemic, due to lack of opportunities and funding. During the pandemic, the Nigerian government enforced a stay-at-home order, intended to keep people safe. The restrictions resulted in the closure of the universities and research centres, so I had to work from home. Being housebound during the pandemic interfered with my ability to focus on my thesis. I lost touch with my supervisors and experienced inertia.

There are numerous issues that developing countries like Nigeria have in common and that could worsen the impact of the pandemic. How can people without access to clean water be expected to wash their hands? How can people in an overcrowded environment practice social distancing? How can people mostly without stable and regulated electric power work from home? These major challenges — mainly the lack of access to electric power — confronted me. When I started to work from home, I only had access to 24% of the normal power supply. The lack of electrical power caused delays in communication with collaborators by email and video call.

Even though I experienced these challenges, I found ways to maintain my physical and mental health. I adapted to a new routine, starting to exercise using my home environment and listening to, and sometimes playing, musical instruments.  When in-person events were cancelled, I attended virtual international conferences, workshops and communicated with senior scientists in Space Science.’

  1. C. Anoruo et al. Front. Astron. Space Sci. (2022), 9, 947473 

Adapted from:

Intern. Assoc. of Geomag. and Aeronomy Blogs (4th February 2022). Available at: [Accessed 20th January 2023]

PAGES Early-Career Network Blogs (11th June, 2020) Available at: [Accessed 20th January 2023]

Are you a research student? We’d like to hear from you – we’d be interested in receiving a summary of your research or your experiences as part of a research group. Just email or contact us on social media. 

IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

UK selection for the International Physicists’ Tournament

🇺🇦 🇬🇧 Anastasiia Vasylchenkova, IPT national representative in the UK

A group of people standing in front of a building with columns

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Group photo of all participants and jurors in front of the UCL Portico

This year in the United Kingdom, we had the first-ever National Selection for the International Physicists’ Tournament in tournament style. In previous years, the participants just had to submit a written report for selection. This year, it has been quite inspiring to have a national selection, as teams could experience all the joy and fun of physics fights. 

The International Physicists’ Tournament (IPT) is a competition which gathers university student teams from all around the world for a unique process of solving challenging problems in teams and defending their solutions at Physics Fights. From this year, the IPT is a major event under the umbrella of IAPS. More information is available via

At the beginning of December, three teams arrived at the University College London (UCL) for the National Selection event. We had a University of Cambridge team, a UCL team and a joint team from UCL and Kings College London. 

The IPT is famous for thought-provoking problems for training research and debating skills of our participants. For example, the last report by the winning – Cambridge – team was about Dancing light problem. It states: “Put a membrane with a mirror over a speaker. Then project the reflection of a laser pointer over a screen. By driving the speaker with single or multiple frequencies you may observe lines and shapes projected on the screen. Given a closed trajectory in 2D of a single line, find the input on the speaker required to “paint” the line. Can you also “rotate” the line as you desire? Investigate the limitations.”

Other participants and jurors were pleased to watch experimental videos of the reporting team, listen to their hypotheses and outcomes, and have a discussion about different aspects of the physics behind the phenomena. 

We heartily appreciate the teams’ efforts in solving the IPT problems and dedicating their Sunday to participation in physics fights. We are also extremely grateful to our jury panel for working very hard in assessing teams’ performance. Last but not least, the IPT was supported by the Institute of Physics, in particular, London and South East Branch, and STEMM Global Scientific Society.

A group of people posing for a photo

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The winners of the UK national selection (University of Cambridge)
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jIAPS Staff Member Milestones

There are lots of opportunities to get involved with jIAPS – here we would like to recognise the incredible efforts of our top contributors so far this year. 

There is still chance to contribute to jIAPS, whether you would like to write an article, send a photo of an event you participated in, or help with graphic design – just email us at .

Congratulations to the following jIAPS Staff Members who have reached these milestones:

50 contributions: 

🇵🇭 Harvey Sapigao 

30 contributions:

🇯🇵 Muhammad Frassetia Lubis 

10 contributions:

🇲🇰 Evgenija Pandova 

🇲🇽 Fabiola Cañete

🇮🇳 Jeet Shannigrahi

🇮🇳 Noumish Hait

🇪🇸 Pedro Villalba González 

5 contributions:

🇳🇵Rabin Thapa

🇬🇧 Sophie Gresty

🇩🇴 Thara Caba 

🇷🇸 Zlatan Vasović

IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

A Teacher’s Journey to the Roof of the World

Author: 🇳🇵 Rabin Thapa, Dolpo Buddha Rural municipality, Dolpa

Rabin has shared his experiences of being a Science teacher in a mountainous region of Nepal with jIAPS:

After completing my Master’s degree in physics, I applied for the post of teacher of mathematics and science in Crystal Mountain School (CMS) which is located in upper Dolpa at an altitude of 4300 meters. Inside me, the answer to the question: ‘why did I apply for this professional vacancy as a late twenties Nepalese citizen , is still an unanswered conflict or chaos tumbling in a wave of thought whenever I close my eyes.

Passing through the physical interview process and orientation, I was ready for an hour flight from Kathmandu to Nepaljung, followed by two days road travel and three days uphill trek to the school. However, my plans were disrupted by a domestic flight cancellation. 

Vision Dolpo, an organization managing the seven months academic terms during summer with an ambition to uplift the local literacy potential, can be highly praised. During the six days’ journey, the pressure related to finance and socio economic fluctuation was clearly visible. Meanwhile, we reached our destination on 17th April. A day’s rest was scheduled to face altitude sickness before starting regular teaching on 19th April.

Considering the harsh geographical navigation of CMS coupled with the local living standard, the encounter of limited stationary, student’s uniforms, teaching resources, regular food and IT access was inevitable. In this context, everything apart from basic requirements had to be brought from the capital, to be able to conduct regular academic activity. These supplies were  transported from Dolpa’s district headquarters to the school’s location by mules and donkeys. In April, around hundred shacks of school material were on the way to our location. During dinnertime a few days after I arrived, I heard that Dolpo Buddha Rural Municipality was facing official blockage due to political turbulence, which resulted due to per-planned local elections announced by the government. Due to this blockage, whatever its cause, CMS’s administration had to face the scarcity of food for the staff. Most prominently, the 250 students who come to school here are struggling with availability of stationary, learning material, laboratory tools and uniforms. The stark reality, the real image of public education as experienced by me, is really heartbreaking. I can remember wishing that my heartache could be consoled and thinking of the passenger’s song entitled, “Survivor”.

After a long wait of three months, the supplies, including the stationary for the students, finally arrived. However, the staff, along with the administration team, had to overcome the challenge of continuing regular academic activities with limited resources. At a general meeting, I was assigned to initiate the lead in STEAM activities and upgrade the science laboratory. Selecting extracurricular projects was pivotal because I found that very few students in the school were interested in classical or analog projects. Consequently, to motivate interest in modern science and technology, we established a ‘Makers’ Club’. The annual projects selected were: the construction and installation of electric bell, execution of robotics design and designing a smart dustbin. Fifteen students initially enrolled in the ‘Makers’ Club’. In the ‘Maker’s Space’, we came to a mutual agreement with the students that all the members had to contribute two hours to the club every day after their regular class. 

These two hours of the school day are the most precious time for the students. They can explore a variety of engineering tools, through regular workshops where they are instructed in practical electronics, magnetism, wiring, working principle of switches, AC, DC, transformers, software coding, hardware and basic design principles, to name a few activities. Sometimes, the students became so enthused by their projects that we used to work for hours, even without sleeping. When all our annual projects were accomplished, after four months of hard work, we showed our finished products to the other students and we were able to attract more students to join the ‘Makers’ Club’. Now, at the altitude of 4100 m, in a remote mountainous region of Nepal, we have a self-made electric bell in operation; an inter-house robotic battle; and smart dustbins with software and hardware developed by the students. In our corner of the world, we are introducing modern science and technology to children in their regular learning environment, in a region where these scientific advances were unknown. 

Photo Credits: Rabin Thapa

IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

Article of the Month – March 2023

Implications of Relativistic Effects on the Global Positioning System (GPS)

Raghav Sharma, BSc Physical Science with Electronics, University of Delhi


Relativity has no obvious consequences in daily life, but one close look at the working of a GPS device is sufficient to highlight the enormous implications of relativistic effects on situations where velocity, gravity, and accuracy are involved. Clocks on a moving satellite do not appear to tick at the same intervals as clocks on Earth. This is especially problematic in high-accuracy systems like the GPS. Understanding the mathematical principles behind these effects allows for a derivation of precise offset values- adjustments that need to be made to satellite clocks to correct any time difference caused by relativity.


The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a highly accurate, satellite-based positioning and navigation system.[1] To maintain that accuracy, time-dilating relativistic effects arising from both the general and special theory of relativity need to be taken into account. This is achieved by adjusting the rates of onboard satellite clocks and incorporating mathematical corrections. This article explores time dilation effects on GPS and describes some calculations and adjustments that are made to account for them. The correction for special relativistic time dilation is derived in detail.

  1. An Overview of Time-Dilation Effects

A handheld GPS receiver can determine the absolute position on the surface of the Earth to within 5 to 10 metres.[1] Achieving a navigational accuracy of 5 metres requires knowing the onboard GPS satellite time to an accuracy of about 17 nanoseconds, which is the time taken by light to travel 5 metres. Because satellites are constantly moving with respect to the Earth-centred (approximately inertial) frame and are further away from the Earth’s gravitational well, one must consider time dilation caused by both special and general relativistic effects. If these effects were left uncompensated, navigational errors would accumulate at a rate in excess of 10 kilometres per day, rendering the system unusable within about 2 minutes.[2] 

  1. Special Relativity

GPS Satellites are not geosynchronous because that would limit coverage. They have a time period of about 12 hours (so that any satellite passes over the same location each day) and a corresponding orbital velocity of about 3874 m/s relative to the centre of the Earth.[3]

According to the Special Theory of Relativity, moving clocks run slower.[2] The time dilation amount is determined by Lorentz transformations. The time measured on-board the satellite is reduced by the Lorentz factor γ:

where τ_{Ground} and τ_{GPS} are time intervals measured on the Earth’s surface and by the satellite clock, respectively.

The derivation of the time by which satellite clocks lag behind surface clocks, Δτ, is given below: 

Using binomial expansion for small values of (v/c):

Taking v=3874 m/s and c=2.998×108m/s:

 For a time-interval of 1 day (86,400s) on the Earth’s surface:

Therefore, GPS clocks lose about 7μs a day due to special relativistic time dilation.

  1. General Relativity

GPS satellites have an orbital altitude of 20,184 km measured from the surface.[3] According to the General Theory of Relativity, a clock in a gravitational field runs slower. This effect is given by:

Where τ_0 is the time interval measured near a mass (i.e., in a gravitational well), and is the time interval measured far away from the mass. 

For small values of (M/r):

The clocks on the Earth’s surface are a distance of R_Earth=6378.1 km from the gravitational centre, so the time dilation with respect to GPS satellites is twofold. It is stated without proof that due to general relativistic time dilation effects, clocks onboard the satellites gain about 45μs per day, with respect to ground-based clocks.[1]

  1. Error Correction

The combination of general and special relativistic time dilation means that GPS clocks gain about 38μs a day. As stated before, the desired accuracy can be as high as 17 nanoseconds. Thus, it is crucial to correct any time difference. 

A time offset of 38μs corresponds with a fractional change of +4.465×10^-10, i.e. the satellite clocks need to be slowed down by this fraction. The fundamental L-band frequency produced by the atomic clocks on-board is 10.23 MHz. This needs to be offset by the aforementioned fraction. Therefore, the actual frequency of the GPS clocks is set to 10.22999999543 MHz before launch.[3-4]

The variation in these changes due to the eccentricity (deviation from circularity) of the satellite orbit also needs to be taken care of. Built-in microcomputers used in GPS receivers help in any additional timing calculations required using satellite-provided data.[1]


Relativity dictates that clocks aboard GPS satellites do not tick at the same rate as those on the Earth. Both general and special relativistic time dilation effects are at play. Neglecting to adjust for these would render GPS useless in a few minutes. Correcting them involves giving the onboard atomic clocks a slight offset in frequency, so that they may appear to run at the same rate as ground-based clocks. This correction is one of many needed to maintain a navigational accuracy of up to a few metres.


  1. Pogge, Richard W. (2017): Real-World Relativity: The GPS Navigation System
  2. Will, Clifford M.: Einstein’s Relativity and Everyday Life
  3. Nelson, Robert A. (1999): The Global Positioning System- A National Resource
  4. Oxley, Alan (2017): Uncertainties in GPS Positioning- A Mathematical Discourse, Pages 71-80

Article of the Month IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

February 2023 – Another way to see the synchronization

Author: Andrea Arlette ESPAÑA-TINAJERO

Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, México

Aix-Marseille Université, France

When talking about the synchronization phenomenon, the most common thing is to think of biological events where it is possible to observe it with our own eyes, for example, when dozens of birds fly in the sky and form various patterns with choreographies that seem very well rehearsed. Also, some types of fish exhibit this type of behavior when swimming; it seems that they do it harmoniously and without colliding with each other [1]. 

In our case, we will think of the synchronization phenomenon in the following way: it will be a process in which a set of agents interacts, and by allowing a long enough period to pass, then all of them will have the same state, which we will call synchronized state. In the bird example, the synchronized state might be that they are all flying north, and in the fish example, that they are all swimming south.

With this concept of synchronization that has just been defined, we can now think of another type of phenomenon, in particular, the following: consider an empty, impermeable box, without a lid (to be able to observe what happens inside), in which we will pour a liquid (none in particular, we can think of water or oil), with a volume large enough to cover the entire surface of the box. Intuition tells us that when we finish pouring the liquid, each unit of surface area of the box will be the basis of the same volume of liquid. This would be the synchronized state, and this process is more commonly called diffusion.

Imagen que contiene Dibujo de ingeniería

Descripción generada automáticamente
Figure One: Impermeable box, with markings on each area unit. Drops of different sizes and the place where the liquid is poured are shown, as well as the circular neighbourhood formed by pouring the liquid into the box.

The way in which the liquid fills the box is not a very surprising mechanism; that is, if the liquid begins to pour at a point, then a circular neighborhood around that point is expected to fill uniformly at the same time, until the entire area of the box is covered, and then, we will see how its volume increases, until the liquid runs out.

On the other hand, what happens if the box is not initially empty? Suppose that on the surface of the box there are drops of different volumes, and the liquid begins to pour at a point where there is no drop. Diffusion occurs as in the case of the empty box, but when the liquid interacts with a drop, then the circular neighborhood changes its shape to become a kind of deformed number 8, and so on with the drops that it finds in its path. What happens is a kind of agglutination phenomenon, that is, how one drop sticks to another, just before the area of the box fills up and begins to increase in volume until the liquid runs out.

So, for the case where there are drops, how could we describe the way the box is filled? First, we can identify that this phenomenon depends on some factors, the first, how many drops there are in the box at the beginning and what volume each of them has. You can even think of the effect if the box is not square or has holes inside it (without considering liquid losses, each of the holes would have a barrier that would prevent liquid loss).

Despite these new obstacles, the ways in which the synchronized state is reached are accurately described using mathematics, thanks to a new combinatorial approach. In this approach, the configurations of the droplets are encoded together with their volume and the total volume of the liquid. In this way, its route towards synchronization is fully determined [2].

The kind of mathematical objects that are used to describe and code the paths to synchronization are very simple to understand. They are called discrete increasing functions that go above the diagonal and below the constant. They take a list of length N, considering that in each place a number greater than or equal to the one on the left and less than the one on the right is placed. For example, when N=5, the diagonal is (1,2,3,4,5), the constant is (5,5,5,5,5) and two functions between them would be (2,2,3,4,5) and (2,2,4,4,5). These mathematical objects have been extensively studied; multiple characteristics and properties of them are known.

In physics, knowing how to use the tools provided by mathematics, which usually focus on calculus, differential equations, probability, and statistics, have allowed us to solve many problems in an elegant, useful, and educational way. In this case, using combinatorial and number theory tools allowed us to make an exact description of what happens before reaching synchronization, which in turn is a widely observed and studied phenomenon. No tool is left over, one day it could help us to graduate with a doctorate.


  1. A. Pikovsky, M. Rosenblum, J. Kurths, Synchronization – a universal concept in nonlinear sciences, in: Cambridge Nonlinear Science Series, 2001.
  2. A. España, X. Leoncini, E. Ugalde, Combinatorics of the paths towards synchronization, 2022. doi:10.48550/ARXIV.2205.05948. URL:

Article of the Month IAPS 2022-2023 jIAPS

January 2023 – Social Physics

Author: Aikaterini Nikou, University of Edinburgh, UK

Happy New Year! This is the first article in an exciting new series. Every month we hope to showcase a scientific article written by an undergraduate or postgraduate physics student. Is there a topic you would like to write about? Just email your article to

(Word limit – 1000 words. For guidance on how to write an article, see and )


Social Sciences; Let’s get… physical!

In the orbits of stars, in particle collisions, in chemical reactions, in vehicles’ machines… physics is everywhere. Notoriously, physics is also in human behaviours, human interactions, and social dynamics. Have you ever considered how elegantly physics could describe social phenomena?

Figure 1: Human behaviour forms patterns that can be described by mathematical models just like the laws of physics (from pixabay)

There is a particularly graceful beauty in the notion that social phenomena could be modelled, explained, analysed and predicted using mathematics in a way similar to physical phenomena. This could have a great spectrum of applications including economy (econophysics), pedagogy, tackling pandemics or even… dating. Social physics experiments conducted in the MIT media laboratory have investigated dating and found that it is possible to predict the outcome merely by analysing non-linguistic social signals such as the tone of voice [1]. A similar view could be used to analyse and predict other societal aspects including negotiating.

Social physics is a revolutionising topic in science; however, studying social phenomena through a scientific scope has existed for centuries. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes mentioned this concept before the term Social Physics or Sociophysics was coined for the first time. He expressed the notion that social phenomena could be represented in terms of the laws of motion of physics and therefore explained through the lens of physics. In his book “De Corpore” (“On the Body”), he described the idea that the behaviour of “material bodies” can be expressed mathematically through the laws of motion invented by Galileo [2]. It seems almost natural to stop for a second and admire the beautiful diachronism of physics, as well as its interdisciplinarity in examining society from a scientific point of view.

Figure 2: Venn diagram showing the interdisciplinary of Social Physics, and its relationship with Physics, Mathematics, Social Science and Computer Science

Social Physics in Today’s Society

We live in a society where data collection is easier than ever, while there is a great number of datasets that are incredibly large and complex to analyse. Such datasets could be phone call records, web activity and credit card transactions. These datasets hold in their arms mathematical patterns that could reveal behavioural changes and patterns. Social physics can… deal with all – the so called “big-data”. It is a powerful tool that could be used for the blooming of our society. Evidently, data science is at the heart of social physics. Wonderfully, it can also help tackle world issues like the Covid-19 pandemic. A study showed that the multi-wave dynamics of Covid-19 outbreaks was dependent on the differences in responses to social stress [3].

A great benefit of social physics is that big data and exact mathematical tools can be applied in order to, in great accuracy, reflect on human behaviour as well as changes in it. It allows us to notice behavioural patterns and to therefore predict future social trends. These trends could include purchase preferences, shopping behaviour, communication behaviour, mobility or even Covid-19 cases spikes. These can then help us come up with more efficient plans to tackle climate change or urban development and traffic. It is worth noting that we could also observe and mathematically model connections between innovation and patterns of habits and communication which could greatly benefit the evolution of society. In other words, social physics can provide us with a way to more profoundly and accurately understand the mechanism of change of society. This could signal the birth of a new and innovative theory for society.

Social Physics and Machine Learning?

A question worth addressing is whether this analysis could be achieved using machine learning. Machine learning is a great tool for analysing mechanical and physical-driven data. For example, it can be invaluable in monitoring oil drill pumps control data and helping engineers prevent a possible malfunction. What about analysing financial transactions and therefore predicting customers’ preferences? Which type of customer would opt for a specific service for example? Social physics can help here as an appropriate tool for analysing human behaviour data. 

Social Physics and human development 

Moreover, social physics can also help in furthering our understanding of human development processes. Social physics has revealed a connection between the communication of a child and its brain development. The level of engagement (communication with people close to them such as parents or caretakers, inside of the red circle as seen in Fig.3) greatly affects the brain development of a child. Children that have a higher level of engagement and exploration (communication with people not in their close circle) have more developed brains and these children become more successful [4].

Figure 3: Patterns of Success. The inner of the red circle includes the “engagement”, anything outside comprises the “exploration” (from [4])


Recently, more and more social and societal phenomena are being studied through the lens of physics and mathematics. This interdisciplinary of social physics is particularly powerful. A great number of social physics studies have been conducted bringing to the surface revolutionising ideas, and so many more have yet to be conducted by the next generation of social physicists that could contribute to the blooming of our society. 


  1. Madan A, Caneel R.  Pentland A”S”. Voices of Attraction. MIT Media Laboratory Technical Note 2004 Sep; No. 584. Available from:
  2. Social Phyics/ Wikipedia [Internet]. Available from 
  3. Kastalskiy AI, Pankratova VE, Mirkes ME, Kazantsev BV, Gorban NA. Social stress drives the multi-wave dynamics of COVID-19 outbreaks. Sci Rep. 2021 Nov18;11(1):22497. 
  4. MIT TEDxTalk [Intenet] Success through Social Physics Alex “Sandy”; 2014 Dec 13. Available from 

jIAPS Article of the Month

Introducing the jIAPS Article of the Month, a new feature of jIAPS for 2023:

Every month we will showcase a scientific article written by an undergraduate or postgraduate physics student. Read the first article in this new series here.  Is there a topic you would like to write about? Just email . 

For guidance on how to write an article, see and

The only rule is that there is a word limit of 1000 words. We are looking forward to seeing your articles.