Backstory: Ana

A Q&A with Liam Hogan, winner of First Prize in the Open Category, Quantum Shorts 2015
The heart of this story is a little girl Ana who’s afraid of what’s under her bed. Were you afraid of things under your bed?
No, I don't think I ever was, which is good. I always had clear sight lines. For a long while, what was under my brother's bed was me, because we had bunk beds. But I did grow up watching Dr Who from behind the sofa, so there's that.
Where you did you get your inspiration for your story?
It has been percolating a long time. If I remember correctly, I started writing it in 2013 for a call for stories with an ‘under the bed’ theme, thinking about what's the weirdest thing that could possibly be under the bed. I'd previously done an event called Science Show Off in London, where you talk (or sing or joke) for 9 minutes about something with a scientific basis. I played with ideas of alternative forms for Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, so the idea of lifting up a bed’s valance and discovering something underneath – or not - built up slowly from that as well.
What research did you do for this piece?
I've done enough Science Fiction reading about multiverses and was aware of some of the ‘thought experiments’ in the area of quantum physics, so I pretty much  just went ahead and wrote it. I probably should have researched the psychiatrist who talks to Ana to know exactly what they would or would not say, but that might have spoilt the story!
What about the ending? (Spoiler alert!)
Sometimes you write stories and go "well, it's a nice idea, but I don't really know how to finish it", but this one pretty much wrote its own ending. Once I started thinking about what could be under the bed - a toy, something you lost, nothing at all - the possibilities just kept expanding until eventually the psychiatrist had to go under the bed! It has a darkish, nightmarish, Halloween vibe, even if the psychiatrist himself is perfectly nice; it's just a bit too weird.
It's a delightful thing if you can get a fully formed story out of this length because it becomes this thing where you can go: I don't really want to change any of those words. It’s done. Longer stories are never finished, they're always editable.
What’s your background?
I did physics at Oxford University then took up computers. The great joy of having done IT and finance for a while is that now it’s funding me trying to do something more artistic. I'm currently, technically, a full time writer. (Also known as Self-unemployed.)
What was your path into writing?
One of the things that started me writing short stories is a live literary event called the Liars’ League, where they get actors to read out stories, which perfect because people who write stories are sometimes the worst people to read them out. I started it to have a monthly theme and deadline to knock myself into being disciplined. After they noticed I'd sent them about 50 stories, they invited me to be part of the process, so I now host the London event.
Last year one of my short stories squeaked in as a finalist in the Sci-Fest LA short story competition. They read them out in Hollywood using proper science fiction actors - mine was a Ferengi from Star Trek! (Armin Shimerman)
How did you feel about the news of your prize?
Finding out you're a finalist is great, finding out you've won it is wow! Because I don't have one of these vast social network things, I kind of knew I was not going to win the popular vote, so when I found out I won the judge's prize I was very much delighted. I read all the shortlist. They are all good stories.
What’s next for you?
It has to be said that one of the main reasons that I gave up full time employment was so that I would write novels, and so far I haven't... I've got a few ideas, some of them are fantasy and some of them more science fiction. I need to crack on and do them. At this point, having written short stories continuously for 8 years for Liars’ League and other places, I've probably got enough good ones that I might think about putting them together as a collection that's book-sized.
Final words?
I'd love to thank the contest team for running the competition, because there aren't that many for quirky science fiction. I grew up reading huge amounts of science fiction by the likes of author and scientist Isaac Asimov. Anything that encourages people to be both scientist and writer is, I think, a wonderful thing. A lot of science conjectures and experiments have to come out of a great imagination.
Bonus material: listen to Liam reading Ana for a radio show in the UK (starts around 01:10).
Read more of Liam's work at his website: http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.sg/

Quantum Theories: A to Z

R is for ...

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

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 and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

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!

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.

R is for ...

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!

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.

C is for ...

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

G is for ...

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.

N is for ...

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.

G is for ...

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

X is for ...

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.

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 ...
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.

I is for ...

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

I is for ...

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.

T is for ...

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.

S is for ...

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.

K is for ...

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

D is for ...

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.

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.

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.

Q is for ...

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.

A is for ...

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

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.

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.

C is for ...

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

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.

M is for ...

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.

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.

L is for ...

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!

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.

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”.

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.

W is for ...

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.

U is for ...

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

T is for ...

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.

P is for ...

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

D is for ...

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

E is for ...

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.

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.

R is for ...

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.

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.

Copyright © 2019 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.