Backstory: Shinichi's Tricycle

A Q&A with Ariadne Blayde, People’s Choice winner

Read the story first: Shinichi's Tricycle


Is there anything you would like readers to know about you, beyond the bio in your story?

I’ve always been passionate about history, the humanities and the arts, but it’s only recently that I have become interested in science. Really, science and art are two sides of the same coin: they are both methods of trying to make sense of the universe and find meaning in it. I’m excited to be stepping into the fascinating world of quantum physics, and wish I could go back to school to learn more. 

And here’s a fun fact about me: until I make it big as a writer, I have the very unscientific day job of telling ghost stories! I give ghost tours in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, where I live. 


Where did you get the idea for “Shinichi’s Tricycle”?

I’ve spent the last 9 months researching the Manhattan Project (the United States’ top-secret atomic bomb program) for a novel I’m writing. In January I visited the National Museum of Nuclear History Science and History in Albuquerque. At the museum I learnt about Shinichi, a real boy who died in the bombing of Hiroshima, and saw a picture of his charred tricycle (the real thing is actually on display at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima). Until this point I had spent most of my time thinking and reading about the bomb from the point of view of the scientists who designed it, and the sight of this little boy’s tricycle really helped me understand the suffering the bomb caused in a non-abstract way. 

In the course of my research, I’ve also read a lot about quantum physics. One of the most fascinating ideas in quantum physics, sometimes referred to as “Many Worlds,” explains the baffling results of the famous “double slit” experiment (in which a photon behaves as both a particle and a wave, and doesn’t “decide” which until it is measured) with the proposition that every time an act of measurement occurs, reality splits, yielding parallel realities with a different possibility realized in each. This essentially proposes that every time a decision is made, a parallel reality is created—in which case, there could be all kinds of realities in which nuclear weapons were never developed. 


The story has an interesting structure, having short scenes and moving forward and backward through time. Was this difficult to plan or write?

I knew I wanted to write a story that presented two realities: one in which the bomb was dropped, and one in which it wasn’t. The backward/forward structure of the story followed easily from that concept. 

The only really difficult thing in writing the story was staying within the 1000-word limit. I had a hard time writing succinctly enough to communicate the full idea in such a short space, but it was a fun challenge and I feel that I managed to do it. Without the word limit, I could have gone absolutely wild with this concept. But I am grateful for the 1000-word limit; the economy of language helped me focus the story in an effective way. 


What kind of research did you do to inform your writing?

I was absolutely delighted to come across this contest, because it drew on research I’ve already been doing for months. Some favourites from my reading list include: American Prometheus (Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin), The Age of Radiance (Craig Nelson), What is Real? (Adam Becker), The Hidden Reality (Brian Greene), The Order of Time (Carlo Rovelli), An Atomic Love Story (Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus), and 109 East Palace (Jennet Conant). 


How did you feel about winning the People’s Choice Prize?

I’m so thrilled! It really gives me hope, because the story is a sketch of my novel-in-progress and getting this kind of validation so early in the process gives me a huge boost of confidence. I am so glad that my story spoke to so many people, and I hope that this success will help me find a literary agent and/or a publisher for the novel when the time comes. 


Can you tell us more about the novel that you are working on?

I keep mentioning it and I’m so happy to finally tell you about it in detail: “Shinichi’s Tricycle” contains the main ideas in my novel-in-progress, titled “First Cry of a Newborn World.” The novel follows J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller as they develop the atomic bomb in the secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico; it also follows their two counterparts, versions of them in a parallel reality with different names and lives. In this parallel reality, the bomb was never developed.

In my novel, the characters in the no-nuke reality live in an unending, bloody World War III that they are desperate to escape. And so, like the scientists of our own reality’s Manhattan Project, they are working to use quantum theory to create a device that will end the war; but in their case, they are attempting not to split the atom, but to split reality itself. If the device succeeds, they will abandon their timeline for a more peaceful one: ours. Like “Shinichi’s Tricycle,” the novel will travel backward and forward in time and across realities, exploring all possibilities of how these scenarios unfold. 

I hope that this novel will bring together historical fiction and speculative fiction in a way that explores not just scientific questions about quantum physics, parallel realities and the nature of time, but philosophical questions as well. What is the self? Can a soul remain intact across dimensions? Can we ever learn to be content with our circumstances, or will we always yearn for something different? How do we make sense of history? And more fundamentally, how do we make sense of time?

It’s a huge project but a very exciting one. I hope to have a solid first draft completed within a year. 


Can you name one or two science-inspired books that you would recommend to others?

I would highly recommend two collections of science fiction short stories: Exhalation by Ted Chiang, and Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited by Ken Liu. Both contain beautiful writing and fascinating scientific concepts. Ted Chiang even has a story about parallel realities.

Quantum Theories: A to Z

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

G is for ...

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

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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 ...

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 ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ...

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

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

U is for ...

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

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.

I is for ...

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

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.

M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

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.

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.

C is for ...

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

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.

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.

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”.

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 ...

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

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.

C is for ...

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

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.

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!

Copyright © 2020 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.