# HLFF Spotlight: 10th HLF

# BLOG: Heidelberg Laureate Forum

# The Physicist Embracing Opportunities – Victoria Sánchez Muñoz

*The Heidelberg Laureate Forum has a single purpose: To provide some of the brightest minds in mathematics and computer science with the space and time to make connections and find inspiration. The HLFF Spotlight series shines a light on some of the brilliant young researchers attending the event, their background and research, as well as their expectations for the HLF.*

Interested in community outreach projects? Then make sure to brainstorm a few ideas at the 10th HLF with upcoming attendee Victoria Sánchez Muñoz over a round of tic-tac-toe. Community engagement is one of the (many) aspects about her PhD studies on quantum games at the University of Galway (UoGalway) in Ireland that the 29-year-old Spanish physicist enjoys the most.

She uses an adapted version of the traditional pen-and-paper game of tic-tac-toe (also known as noughts and crosses, or Xs and Os) to workshop the basics of quantum physics with Grade 4 to 6 learners. They are given a quick tour of devices that were developed with input from the quantum physics field, such as LED lights and the lasers in supermarket scanners. A brief history lesson on computers and the quest to develop faster, more secure, and ultimately more superior quantum computers forms part of the workshop programme.

Victoria enjoys watching how willingly learners tackle unfamiliar problems and seeing how the experience of free play – within the realm of quantum physics – ignites the inner scientist in children. She hopes that some of them will one day consider a career in the sciences.

“It’s fantastic to see how children start playing without really knowing the rules. Their faces light up when they begin to work out how the game works when quantum principles are involved,” reflects Victoria, in whose vocabulary the word “fun” regularly crops up. “I’ve done the workshop with adults too, seldom with that same reaction. Adults are just super boring!”

Her workshop’s roots are to be found in a team challenge that Victoria participated in during an online quantum game jam in September 2021. She helped to develop a new educational quantum computer game called Heisenberg’s Bicycle.

After the event, she remembered a paper that proposed that it would be possible to play tic-tac-toe using quantum rules. She subsequently challenged herself to tackle it as her “Christmas 2021 Project”, while on vacation at home in the village of El Pinós in Alicante, Spain. By then Victoria had already investigated her fair share of simple quantum games as part of her PhD thesis that combines quantum physics and game theory under supervision of Dr. Michael Mc Gettrick of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at UoGalway.

She readily admits that working on a quantum-based version of tic-tac-toe while holidaying was more time-consuming than she had anticipated. Using what available spare time she had after the December break, she only “cracked the code”, so to speak, four months later.

When the opportunity to develop school-based workshops came along, however, it proved to have been time well spent. As member and president for two years of the UoGalway Student Chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) she has since presented it at nine primary schools in Galway.

**Seizing opportunities**

Victoria’s first ventures into outreach work started in 2013, when she and five university friends founded the Spanish educational YouTube channel “Tippe Top Physics” (now known as “Gastrofisica“).

“It was fun to do, and people liked it,” she remembers. “I realised that outreach was fun.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she again reached for this medium, when as part of her School’s Outreach Committee she helped produce an explanatory video about Möbius strips for the 2020 Galway Science and Technology Festival. Afterwards, she participated in the online version of FameLab Ireland.

“Perhaps my interest in science communication comes from the fact that I’ve always had to explain my work,” suggests Victoria.

Victoria, who is a teaching assistant to undergraduates in mathematics and statistics at UoGalway, also tutors modules in linear algebra and engineering mechanics. Previously, she had also tutored a student who lives with disabilities and helped older students with their courses as part of the University’s Access Centre.

She admits that she generally says yes when asked whether she’d like to participate in an event or be involved in a project.

“I know I should say ‘no’ more often, because I’m in the last stages of my PhD, but …”

Her handful of years in Galway, a city of 80 000 people in West Ireland with a strong student contingent, have taught her the value of opening the proverbial door when opportunity knocks.

“Anyone can get a PhD, but not everyone is for instance able to do outreach, go to schools and interact with children. I am grateful that I am allowed to do so.”

She makes a point of pursuing personal development goals and has for instance recently followed basic courses or workshops on CPR skills, the handling of sexual violence, and ways to turn research results into podcasts. She is also learning German and hopes to practise it more during the 10th HLF.

“Take advantage of opportunities for free learning that your university might offer. Once you are in the workplace, you’ll have to pay for such courses,” she motivates others to venture beyond the borders of their academic programmes. “And in any case, you cannot use your brain all the time just for your studies!”

**A love for physics**

Victoria comes from a family of teachers and nurses and enjoys tennis, reading, visiting the gym, and the outdoors.

She describes the story behind how she decided on a career in physics as “very cheesy, but all true.”

A career in the sciences was always a natural choice, because of her knack for maths and biology. By her last year in high school, when the subject matter became more interesting and challenging, physics began to enthrall her.

“One evening I was so busy solving a question about gravitational laws and its influence on a planet and its satellites that I completely forgot to have supper. I realised that if something could be so interesting that I’d skip a meal for it, it was worth pursuing as a career!”

She subsequently completed a Bachelor’s degree in Physics at the University of Valencia in 2016, followed by a Master’s degree in Theoretical Physics about entanglement and geometry at the Autonomous University of Madrid in 2017.

In 2018, Victoria was appointed as a junior programmer for a consultancy firm in Barcelona. She was soon underwhelmed by the experience of working in the private sector.

“I loved my colleagues and the city, but it just felt as if I was making rich people even richer,” she explains her subsequent decision to further her PhD studies. Now in its final stages, she hopes to submit her thesis by the end of 2023.

**Taking on an insurance company**

She loves the small “eureka” moments that are part and parcel of academic life and doing research. However, she admits that her greatest highlight yet – and also her biggest disappointment – has nothing to do with her PhD work.

It saw Victoria test her mettle against an insurance company unwilling to pay out when wind severely damaged her outdoor venetian blinds and her mother’s car was scratched in the process. The insurance company held fast: They only covered damages caused at wind speeds of 75 km/h or more, but it had only blown 73km/h on the night of the incident, the company claimed.

Their verdict was like the proverbial red muleta of a Spanish bullfighter, and Victoria went into “full research mode” to try and prove the company wrong. She downloaded weather and wind data from official sources. She then went to great lengths to use physics and geometry principles to prove that the wind had indeed blown stronger.

Emails went back and forth. Months later, a lawyer eventually informed her that her report could not be fully considered because she was not a qualified expert.

“The system wore me down, so I decided to finally let it go,” sighs Victoria, still not convinced that the decision was fair nor based on sound scientific principles.

As a form of academic therapy, she wrote an article about her experiences, calculations, and findings, eventually submitting it for the Graham Hoare Prize 2022, by which the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications (IMA) in the UK supports the work of early career mathematicians. Even though the insurers did not value her work, her academic superiors did.

Victoria won first prize, and her article “The estimation of wind speed: Challenging the insurance company’s decision” was published in the December 2022 issue of *Mathematics Today*.

“And that paper will remain online forever,” she states proudly.

“I must confess, though: As is usual in life, I enjoyed the (research) journey even though the result was a bit disappointing.

“Science can be fun. Science should be fun. Life is about more than doing research or completing your PhD as fast as you can. The world is so big. Explore it,” enthuses Victoria.

**The 10th HLF**

It’s not only for the opportunity to practise her German vocabulary that Victoria is looking forward to the 10th HLF.

She’s looking forward to learning from as many laureates as possible about their expertise and experiences. There are two in particular who work on topics that interest her: Fields Medallist 2022 Hugo Duminil-Copin, and ACM Prize in Computing 2022 recipient, Yael Tauman Kalai.

“I’m very excited to learn new things in terms of maths and computer science from the laureates themselves and the young researchers. But mostly I hope to meet, learn from, and connect with everyone there; and to enjoy Heidelberg. In a word, I just expect to have fun.”

Engela Duvenage wrote (22. Aug 2023):

>

[…] Victoria Sánchez Muñoz […] her article “The estimation of wind speed: Challenging the insurance company’s decision” was published in the December 2022 issue ofMathematics Today.[ https://ima.org.uk/20878/the-estimation-of-wind-speed-challenging-the-insurance-companys-decision/ ]

Shown in drawing Fig. 2 of the linked article are several relevant points (either with an explicit label, or at least implicitly indicated):

• origin

`O`

,• scratch point

`X`

,• the “street level base point underneath the origin” (in the article without explicit label; here and in the following called

`B`

),• the “street level base point underneath the scratch point” (in the article without explicit label; here and in the following called

`C`

).Drawing Fig. 2 apparently shows these points either as outright being plane wrt. each other, or as projected into the same figure plane.

Distance values between certain pairs of these points (or, if applicable, their projections) are given, too;

explicitly:

•

`OB == 260 cm`

,•

`BC == 180 cm`

,( … already these two distance values lead to the conclusion that either the drawing Fig. 2 is not to scale, or else the distance values do indeed not refer to points in the same plane; contrary to my interpretation of appearances … )

•

`XC == 114 cm`

,and as stated in the article text:

•

`OX == 260 cm`

as“length.`L`

of the blind”Further it seems implied (e.g. through the calculation of

“angle) that`α`

“the angles

`∠ OBC`

and`∠ XCB`

are both right angles;consequently

•

`XB == √{ (180 cm)^2 + (114 cm)^2 } ≈ 213 cm`

and•

`OC == √{ (260 cm)^2 + (180 cm)^2 } ≈ 316 cm`

.But based on these six distance values between the four relevant points (or, if applicable, their projections)

`O`

,`X`

,`B`

and`C`

, they are (significantly)not plane wrt. each other.Or to exhibit a discrepancy perhaps more directly:

`180 cm / Sin[ ArcTan[ 180 / (260 - 114) ] ] ≈ 232 cm`

,i.e. significantly different from the given value

`OX == 260 cm`

.(By comparison, solving

`h == 180 / Sin[ ArcTan[ 180 / (h - 114) ] ]`

results in

`h :≈ 199`

,i.e. with an even more significant difference to the given

“length of the blind”.)The modelling shown by Victoria Sánchez Muñoz in the linked article is therefore either significantly inconsistent, or lends itself to misunderstanding on my part.

>

“And that paper will remain online forever,” she states proudly. […]p.s. — SciLogs commentary LaTeX test:

“\( \LaTeX \)” is rendered as: “\( \LaTeX \)”.

Victoria, great research and outreach work. The quantum tic-tac-toe is very interesting. And the rebuttal to the insurance company is great.I look forward to connecting in Heidelberg.

Frank, Victoria’s math is sound. I think the statement that L=260cm is the length of the blinds may have been a typo and/or simplifying assumption. In her calculations it is the distance between the street level and the origin point (which is 260cm) that is actually relevant/noted on the diagram. The blind length doesn’t figure into the calculation of the wind force, where the two L terms cancel out. So the length of the blinds is irrelevant to the correctness of the analysis.

Jen Switzer wrote (23.08.2023, 20:33 o’clock):

>

[… https://ima.org.uk/20878/the-estimation-of-wind-speed-challenging-the-insurance-companys-decision/ …] where the two L terms cancel out.Indeed; see eq. (2) of the linked article.

However, this particular cancellation is a consequence due to modelling:

along with

where the (implicit) comparison

\[ 10~{\rm cm} \ll 260~{\rm cm} \qquad \tag{*} \]

justifies the characterization of the wind force as

“acting at [or near] the bottom [edge] of the blind”, thus leading to eq. (2).The inequality between the explicitly stated blind length L = 260 cm (which, as I imagine, was carefully measured)

and the length of the lifted plank implied through Fig. 2, namely

\(\sqrt{ (180~{\rm cm})^2 + (260~{\rm cm} – 114~{\rm cm})^2 } \approx 230~{\rm cm}\)

is indicative of inaccuracies in subsequent conclusions, incurred through this particular modelling, involving eq. (2).

>

So the length of the blinds is irrelevant to the correctness of the analysis.Even though the length of the blinds cancels in eq. (2) and therefore doesn’t explicitly appear in the subsequent calculatons,

it is relevant for setting up eq. (2) in the first place, due to the comparison \((*)\) with the estimate value \(10~{\rm cm}\).

(Beyond comparison \((*)\) being satisfied, leading to eq. (2) and associated inaccuracies discussed above, this particular estimate value may itself incur additional inaccuracies of the eventually calculated wind speed, btw.)

Hi all,

Frank, thanks for point that out. The actual length of the blind is indeed 260cm, so you are right when you say that the the drawn plank representing the blind must be around 230cm. The blind is not a plank, it bends, so it makes sense that is less. AsJensmentioned, that particular number or length (L) is not important because it cancells out in eq 2. As for the estimated 10cm for the area of action, it is still reasonable to say that 10cm are much less than 230cm (or 260cm) for the statement that the wind force acts at the bottom of the plank/blind.That article published in Mathematics Today is a short version of the original one, which included error estimation in measuring the distances and how that propagates to all the other quantities. But anyway, it is a very very simplified model of a rather complex situation, so it must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Victoria Sánchez Muñoz wrote (28.08.2023, 11:10 o’clock):

>

[…] The actual length of the blind is indeed 260cm, so you are right when you say that the drawn plank representing the blind must be around 230cm. The blind is not a plank, it bends, so it makes sense that is less.Thanks for the clarification,

Victoria. Now —do you concede that Fig. 2,

» Drawing of the situation […] «, of your article https://ima.org.uk/20878/the-estimation-of-wind-speed-challenging-the-insurance-companys-decision/ (linked in the SciLogs piece above)– is not to scale, in terms of the distance values written there explicitly, and including the distance OX of roughly 230 cm (which you just confirmed); and

– doesn’t indicated any distinction between “blind” and “plank”

?

>

[…] As for the estimated 10cm [times width] for the area of action, […] That article published in Mathematics Today is a short version of the original one, which included error estimation in measuring the distances and how that propagates to all the other quantities.Alright; though the linked article doesn’t seem to mention

“the original one”…Would you please reference that original article, too ? — I’d be especially curious about your accounting of conceivable errors or uncertainties on your specific estimate of the value 10 cm.

(And about its figures, too.)

>

[…] 10cm are much less than 230cm (or 260cm) for the statement that the wind force acts at the bottomYes, I’ve acknowledged that in my last comment above.

>

AsJensmentioned, that particular number or length (L) is not important because it cancels out in eq 2Do you agree that the statement

“that the wind force acts at the bottom”is not necessarily applicable, and equation (2) is not necessarily derivable accordingly, in case, say L = 20 cm ?(Just to be sure, I really mean that: length L having the value twenty centimeters.)

In this narrow sense and for this narrow purpose I argue that the value of length L is not completely unimportant, after all.

Instead, you do need to provide some estimate of L (or at least of a “sensible lower bound” of L), and consider the comparison to the 10 cm value.

(Of course, then it’s easy to argue that such a “sensible lower limit” of L is at least 180 cm, and indeed to estimate L at roughly 230 cm;

such that the comparison with 10 cm supports the statement

“that the wind force acts at the bottom”, and eq. 2 can follow.)>

But anyway, it is a very very simplified model of a rather complex situation, so it must be taken with a pinch of salt.Well, at least to my taste, there seems to be one or two

“very”(s) too few in the linked article …I hope you had, and continue to have (?), a good time at the HLF anyways!