Segments in this Video

Quantum Physics (03:16)


At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), two scientists contemplate on the quantum computer. As they approach the limits of their experimentation, Keith Schwab and his colleagues will encounter the "uncertainty principle."

Education of a Physicist (03:58)

Keith shows an interest in science at an early age. After college, he enters UC Berkeley and begins to work with Richard Packard, a physics professor, who acknowledges Keith’s great ability. Fellow graduate students find Keith inspirational to work with.

Personal Costs of Doctoral Program (05:07)

Keith’s experiment still does not work after six years of effort. When he shifts his approach, he solves the problem right away. The stress of the doctoral program puts a great strain on his marriage. He finds a woman physicist who supports him and his work.

Post Doctoral Program at Caltech (05:23)

Keith works with Michael Roukes at Caltech for his post doc research. Using nanotechnology, Keith wants to measure the flow of heat at a quantum level. Failure seems to plague Keith’s experiment, and he needs the support of friends and learns to take time away from the lab.

Perseverance in the Face of Failure (02:56)

The sample Keith needs to measure heat flow must be able to conduct heat without burning up. He is determined to do the experiment his way. He has the willingness to fail innumerable times and face technical obstacles, and yet he continues to pursue his goal.

Dilution Refrigerator (05:24)

Keith must connect the sample with the dilution refrigerator to perform the experiment, yet it takes a year just to prepare the refrigeration unit. Meanwhile, the doctoral degree costs him his relationship with his wife.

Uncertainty in the Laboratory (04:16)

Keith faces the frustration of trying his experiment again and again, especially when the numbers indicate that it should be working fine. Keith, like all scientists, learns to deal with uncertainty, and with the highs and lows of scientific experimentation.

Data Collection (05:29)

Keith acknowledges that there is an art to asking the right questions during the experimentation process. Keith is finally successful in attaching the sample to the refrigeration device. Now he can begin to collect data. His experiment shows the quantum of thermal conductance.

Uncertainty Principle (04:05)

Physicists integrate the uncertainty principle into their worldview. It can be quantitatively shown that the scientist has an effect on his experiment, the basis of quantum theory. Keith sets up his experiment for a second time but encounters electrical problems. He is finally successful.

Publication and Fame (07:01)

Keith's experiment reveals one of nature’s basic principles: a universal value for the limit of heat flow. Keith's article is published in the prestigious journal "Nature." Keith receives invitations to speak at many professional seminars.

Career as a Physicist (02:47)

The U.S. government hires Keith to work in Washington D.C. Keith talks about his past relationship with Amy and he understands the cost of pursuing a career in physics. He is happy, however, to have a permanent position where he can build his own lab.

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The Uncertainty Principle: Making of an American Scientist

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Trying to create a device that can measure the flow of heat at a quantum level, postdoctoral student Keith Schwab confronts the uncertainty principle not only in physics but in life as well. This program follows the arduous quest of a charismatic young physicist and the personal price of his dedication to a long-term goal. Working at Caltech with his mentor, Professor Michael Roukes, Keith sees how his ambitious experiment is less technical than artistic, requiring intuition, courage, vision, sacrifice, and the ability to cope with constant failure. Interviews with his professors and fellow Ph.D. students complete this engaging story of what it means to pursue a career in physics. (54 minutes)

Length: 55 minutes

Item#: BVL12005

Copyright date: ©2000

Closed Captioned

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