Winning Entries

And the prizes go to…

The results are in! Our judges have picked the best of the best entries to the Quantum Shorts competition, and we've got prizes for six fantastic stories.

First, our open international category. The shortlist was a "very impressive selection of stories" said Mark Alpert, author of three novels and a contributing editor at Scientific American. We asked our illustrious judges to rank their favourites from the ten we'd shortlisted, and every single one made someone's top three. That said, there was huge diversity of opinion: some of the judges didn't have any of the eventual winners in their top three. Nonetheless, a few stood out, and the combined choices of all the judges gave us a clear winner and runner up.

Open International winners

First prize goes to "The Knight of Infinity" by Brian Crawford – in which a wealthy, grieving widower plans a grand experiment. It is an energetic and ultimately touching tale that buzzes with ideas about the multiverse and the disparate realities this interpretation of quantum theory creates.

"I like the way this one looked at daredevils, uncertainty and parallel universes," said judge Tania Hershman, curator of ShortStops.info and author of two collections of short stories. Jason Erik Lundberg, author of several books of the fantastic and founding editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, picked this story as a favourite too. It "presents a very empathetic portrait of its protagonist" he says, "his insistence on creating the conditions for a perfect thought experiment feels authentic and well-realized".

Pawel Frelik, President of the Science Fiction Research Association in 2013-14, compared the tale to classic sf writing. "The measured, factual, and yet evocative narration strongly reminds me of Ray Bradbury and his Mars stories," he says. "The changes of perspective towards the end are handled very skilfully, too, and do not break the tension for even half a sentence."

The wisdom of the crowds aligned with the judges on this pick. Hundreds of votes were cast in our public poll on the shortlist, for which we asked readers to pick their single most favourite story. With 46% of the vote, "The Knight of Infinity" claims the People's Choice award too.

As part of the prize, this story has been posted on the @Scientific American blog.

The judges selected the story "Dice", by Betony Adams, as runner-up. The story is a play on Einstein's famous notion about a deity playing dice with the universe, and it drew praise from the judges for its beautiful writing. Jason Erik Lundberg called it "wonderfully written, with vivid descriptions", while Patrick Nielsen Hayden, manager of the SF and fantasy line at Tor Books, said "I liked the way it shifts levels and fakes the reader out".

"Dice" was also the favourite of Mariette di Christina, who oversees Scientific American. She said "Most of all, I enjoyed a story that went about its business with subtlety and elegance and displayed a strong narrative arc."

Congratulations to authors Brian Crawford and Betony Adams!

We'd also like to give a nod to "The Leaning Light" by Andrew J. Manera, which came a close third in the judges' estimation, and to "Superpose" by Yuen Xiang Hao, which was second in the People's Choice vote. You should go read these stories too. Then, hey, why not read all the shortlisted stories, and as many more as you have time for. There are many gems in this site's collection of quantum-inspired fiction that we couldn't recognise with awards.

But we do still have a few prizes to announce. A second panel of illustrious judges deliberated over the shortlists in our two student categories, selecting a winner and runner up in each category.

Student Category winners

First Prize in the Student International category goes to "Postmortem" by Antonia Jade, a student in high school in the United States. It's a tale of two young girls at home alone when their grandmother comes to visit. The twist is, their grandmother had died the week before. The story takes inspiration from the famous Schrodinger's cat paradox in quantum physics. "This story is both playful and disturbing... There's a lot of restraint here, which pays off in wonderful touches of intellectual and emotional nuance" says judge Jen Crawford, Coordinator of the Creative Writing Programme at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

Runner Up is "There Was a Sun" by Rebecca Baron, also a US high school student. In this piece of flash fiction, a physicist struggles with the implications of her successful experiment. Does it mean that humans have no soul? CQT physicist Vlatko Vedral praised this story for its strong links to quantum physics and a storyline that "kept me guessing". Judge Pang Kian Tiong, from the Singapore Science Centre, notes that it uses the idea of quantum teleportation with understanding.

In the Student Singapore category, "Tree in a Forest" by Claire Cheong U-Er takes First Prize. Written from the perspective of a man who can peer through ‘quantum tunnels' to other worlds and times, it is "a meditation of eternal life beyond one's mortality, with a melancholic undertow, revealing an ennui and desperate need to treasure fleeting moments," says judge Paul Tan of Singapore's National Arts Council. "I'm impressed by the author's ability to create a genuine and touching emotional development for the protagonist within this short space; it's very powerful," says Jen Crawford.

Runner up is "Into Chaos." by Aaron Rosario Jeyaraj, in which a scientist is devastated by his attempt to know everything. It plays on the idea of quantum superposition and many worlds, notes Vlatko Vedral, "explaining what it would mean to have the God's eye view of all quantum worlds". Jen Crawford calls the story "eloquent and dramatic".

Congratulations to all our student winners!

Go here for details of what the winners get. Go here to see all the shortlisted stories.

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Quantum Theories

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.