Magic Lamp, 2050

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Director Yang announced the completion of the HEV supercollider to great applause. It was an impressive sight - not that anyone could see more than a small fraction of it from the reception hall. But Yang's audience was mostly comprised of the scientists who had designed the kilometers-long facility, and when its vast array of indicator lights was finally illuminated, the crowd couldn't help but cheer.
Yang himself left as quickly as he could after his speech, dodging handshakes and congratulatory drinks. While the occasion was deeply satisfying to him, at that moment he simply felt exhausted. The supercollider project began as a marathon and ended as a sprint. For the last month, Yang had been sleeping on a cot in his office, and with his ceremonial obligations complete, that cot was an irresistible destination.
But the moment he laid down and closed his eyes, Yang’s much-deserved rest was forestalled by a voice. 
"Congratulations, Director! The HEV is a real beauty."
Yang jumped up and, noticing a figure on the couch on the other side of his office, ran for the door.
"Whoa, calm down! What's the matter?"
Halfway out the door, Yang turned, his panic fading. He took a breath and flicked on the lights.
The figure on the couch turned out to be a very small man in very strange clothing. Yang didn't recognize him, but somewhere in the back of his mind, blunted by adrenaline and exhaustion, he felt a vague sense of familiarity. The man was smiling and holding his hands up apologetically, and overall he looked non-threatening enough to turn Yang’s fear into indignation.
"Who are you and what are you doing in my office?" Yang demanded.
"Why I'm a Q-genie, of course," said the Q-Genie. "What kind of question is that? You're the one who called me here."
"Well, Eugenie," said Yang, now offended, "you've broken several different security protocols, not to mention laws, and I really must request–"
The Q-Genie interrupted him with a laugh. "Wow, you really don’t know, do you? Didn't Olsen talk to you? She should have explained."
Yang frowned. He recalled several unopened emails from Dr. Julia Olsen, who had directed the last major accelerator project before the HEV. He had been too busy these past few weeks to keep up with his correspondence.
The Q-Genie shook his head reproachfully. "I suppose I’ll have to introduce myself. I am a Q-genie - that's with a Q, thank you very much. When you humans conduct any particularly ingenious quantum experiment you summon one of us, and we answer one question for you."
Yang and the Q-Genie stared at each other for a while. Finally, Yang rubbed his eyes and walked back to his cot, where he slumped down.
"I'm hallucinating, obviously," Yang muttered, "I'm hallucinating from fatigue. It will all be better in the morning."
"You're not hallucinating. Hey! Hey! Look at me!" The Q-Genie snapped his fingers at Yang. "This is a big opportunity for you. For humanity! All those millions spent on this project, this is what it was all for.”
"This isn't what it was for. This is a scientific research project. We have many experiments planned."
The Q-Genie snorted. "That’s all nonsense. Seriously, Director, don’t be so shocked. It takes large teams of highly specialized experts years to design and operate a high-energy accelerator. Do you think any of those people fully understands all those endlessly complex details? No, they each understand their own little niche and that's it, and everyone cheerfully assumes everyone else is filling in the gaps. Well, it isn’t true. I am a nearly omniscient being and I am telling you, these devices do one useful thing and one only: they summon genies. That's what they're for and that's what they’ve always been for."
The Q-Genie walked over to Yang and patted him on the knee sympathetically.
"Now, don't be disappointed. It's still an amazing achievement. It's just that humans aren't quite built to really understand quantum physics, so we Q-genies give you a hand when you need it. Now, let's get to the point."
Years later, after getting quite drunk on the day of the announcement of his Nobel Prize in Physics, Yang confided to a favorite graduate student that it wasn’t so much the little man <em>convinced</em> him that science was all down to genies, as that the speech confirmed a suspicion he had always had - and anyway, what was the harm? 
"Any question?"
The Q-Genie nodded. "Well, any yes-or-no question. My answers are quantized. There are only two possibilities: yes or no. I can't do all the work for you."
Yang contemplated for a long moment. Of course this was probably just a strange dream, but... just in case…
“Do quarks have any substructure?”
"Excellent question! The answer is: yes. Now, you should be able to get a few hundred publications out of that if you make them sufficiently convoluted, and you’ll keep the field on the right track for next time."
The Q-Genie glanced at his wristwatch.
"Well, I must go. An Earth a few realities away only just achieved fission. Apparently their Einstein, Bohr, and Rutherford decided to quit science and form a jazz trio, so their atomic physics is a little behind. They know way more about acoustics than anyone else, though. Never could understand that stuff myself. Farewell, Director."
The Q-Genie vanished. Yang blinked at the spot where he had been. 
A disembodied voice floated into the room.
"Oh, and please talk to whoever manages the next summoning. I'm trying to reduce my call times."
Yang blinked at nothing for a while longer. Finally, he laid down and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
By the time Yang woke up, it was 10 o'clock. He rubbed his eyes, stretched a little, and plodded over to his desk. Then he picked up the phone and dialed his assistant.
"William," he said, "Would you mind getting Julia Olsen on the line?"
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

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.

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.

U is for ...

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

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.

R is for ...

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

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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 ...
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

G is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ...

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

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.

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