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Student gives invited talk at Singapore's ArtScience Museum

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10 September 2014

ArtScience Museum in Singapore

Singapore's ArtScience Museum explores the creative processes at the heart of art and science and their role in shaping society. CQT's Tan Peng Kian was invited to speak there about his work measuring photon bunching in light from the Sun.

On 6 September, graduate student Tan Peng Kian gave a talk at Singapore's ArtScience Museum in a public seminar devoted to 'Visualizing the Universe'.

Peng Kian had been invited by the museum's Executive Director Honor Harger to present his research on 'photon bunching' alongside artists interested in the cosmos, after she heard about his work from CQTians at Singapore's Mini Maker Faire in July.

Peng Kian gave a personal and accessible account of his research. His opening slide was a still from the original Star Trek – his childhood inspiration for being interested in science – and the take-home message he gave in response to an audience question was "if you want something, do it".

Astronomy is an unlikely field for success in Singapore, where viewing of the sky is hindered not only by urban light pollution but also by tropical clouds. Peng Kian told how the first time he saw the Milky Way from a darker place, it made him cry a little.

Photon bunching is an expected feature of stellar light, a tendency of the light particles to clump together. Detecting the effect was an unsolved problem in astronomy until Peng Kian came along with the device he's built for his PhD research under the supervision of CQT's Christian Kurtsiefer and NUS' Phil Chan. Using techniques from quantum optics to filter and detect light of a specific wavelength, he was able to make the first ever measurement of such bunching in sunlight.

Peng Kian told the audience that he wants to use the technique to investigate an unusual star suspected of emitting natural laser light, to study planets beyond our solar system, and perhaps even test theories of quantum gravity.

Scroll down to see audience responses on social media to Peng Kian's talk.

The other presenters at Visualizing the Universe were:

  • Kalaimani Retnasamy from The Astronomical Society of Singapore (TASOS) – Astronomy in Art
  • Professor Vladimir Todorovic, NTU – Uncanny Representations of Cosmos in Motion Pictures
  • Films by Peter McLeish, Lightening's Angels and Polaris, presented by Honor Harger, chair of the event
  • Dr Susie Lingham, Director of Singapore Art Museum – Of Mind and Measure: Heaven, Hell and Hologram