Films rewarded for imaginative storytelling

March 05, 2021

“I am Andra. Number 2342. In a few hours I will cease to exist,” opens the short film Gods. The futuristic fantasy film, bringing us the last message of a civilisation that deciphered the secrets of quantum physics, has taken First Prize in the Quantum Shorts festival.

“I am absolutely happy to receive this award, especially since this festival is very special to me,” says the film’s director Sitoh Ortega, from Spain. “It is more than a short film festival. It is a fantastic means for scientific diffusion, which is so important these days.”

Gods is one of three films to claim further honours in the festival, which drew over 200 submissions after calling for short films that take inspiration from quantum physics. From the ten finalists announced in January, the other winners are Vacation, which has been selected as Runner Up, and Man In A Box, which won the People’s Choice Prize decided by public vote. 

Each winner receives a cash award, certificate and an engraved trophy, in addition to the screening fee and one-year Scientific American digital subscription awarded to all finalists.

Judges Alex Winter, Honor Harger, Jamie Lochhead, José Ignacio Latorre, Lindy Orthia and Mark Levinson decided the top two prizes. In a jury statement, the judges said:

Quantum Shorts makes a big ask: to produce a compelling short film that also connects with the complex science of quantum physics. The diverse and creative films that made this year’s shortlist have different strengths in how they respond to this challenge. In choosing the winners, we have weighed each film’s scientific merits and artistic vision.

The prizes are awarded to two narrative films produced to extremely high standards – Gods and Vacation. Gods, taking First Prize, impressed us with its emotional resonance, and Vacation, chosen as Runner Up, with its well-pitched humour. Both feature strong acting performances and imaginative storytelling. Quantum physics is invoked in these films in a speculative style, which can inspire viewers’ interest to explore the subject more deeply. These films are thought-provoking too about the role of science in society and the character of scientific research.

We would also like to acknowledge the work of the other shortlisted filmmakers, giving honourable mentions to Everett Syndrome for its subtle take on the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics, to Leo’s Uncertainty for its cinematically sophisticated exploration of quantum behaviour and to Schrödinger Holmes and the Quantum Crimewave for its original animation style. Some of us had favourites among the other finalists, too, and we congratulate Man In A Box on winning the People’s Choice prize by popular vote. Thank you to all the filmmakers for sharing your work with us.

For winning First Prize, Gods director Sitoh Ortega receives USD 1500. He came up with the idea for the film based on a dream where scientists managed to enter and visualise the world of particles.

The runner up prize of USD 1000 goes to Vacation director Jack Davies from the United Kingdom. Inspired by quantum superposition, Vacation is about a young inventor with a machine she thinks could send people through space and time. She conducts an experiment with surprising results.

On winning, Jack Davies said, “It’s amazing news and such a wonderful surprise in a difficult time around the world. I am honoured to accept this award and want to thank the judges for choosing ‘Vacation’ as runner up at this year’s festival.”

With over 1300 votes cast in a public vote, Man In A Box won the People’s Choice prize. The film riffs on the ideas of quantum superposition and Schrödinger’s cat, when one friend inviting another friend out for a movie night leads to spiralling scenarios. Director Akash Meel from India worked on the film with friends when each of them was in a different city during lockdown.

“Filming this wasn’t easy as we had barely any equipment. We shot it all on smartphones, used books as elevations, and tried to hide the fact that the two people were in different cities as much as we could,” says Akash Meel.  “All in all, it was a fun and unique experience and I'm glad people have the same opinion about the movie too, it’s the most I could have asked for.”

The winning and shortlisted films can be watched on the Quantum Shorts website. They are also being screened around the world, at online and live events. Check the Quantum Shorts website for details of all events:

The Quantum Shorts film festival is organised by the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore. It is supported by media partners Scientific American and Nature; scientific partners the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, the Dodd-Walls Centre, the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, Canada, the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech, QuTech, and the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme; and screening partners the ArtScience Museum in Singapore and Otago Museum in New Zealand.

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.

S is for ...

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

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”.

K is for ...

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

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.

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.

I is for ...

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ...
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!

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

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.

U is for ...

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

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.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

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.

K is for ...

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

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 ...

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 

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.

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 ...

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.

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.

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.

I is for ...

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

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.

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 ...

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

R is for ...

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

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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