“Truly engaging” shortlist on family ties, Father Christmas and fallible creators

March 11, 2024

After we opened our last call for quantum-inspired flash fiction, writers around the world responded resoundingly. The 650 entries we received were the most in the competition’s history. Now, we are delighted to present the 10 finalists.

“It’s been an absolute thrill to read this year’s entries for Quantum Shorts,” said shortlisting judge Charles Woffinden at the University of Queensland and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS). “The quality has been extremely high, making the shortlisting process both terribly challenging and extremely enjoyable, but I suppose, ‘nobody said this was going to be easy!’”

“Nobody said this was going to be easy” is the phrase that we asked writers to incorporate in their entries for the competition. The phrase, originally from the last Quantum Shorts flash fiction winning entry “Helping Hands”, found its way into new worlds and plotlines in the hands of this year’s writers.

Author Michael Brooks noted the great diversity. “The stories were truly engaging: sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes ingenious, sometimes just hilariously crazy!” he said. “I had great difficulty choosing my favourites, as all of them had something to offer a curious reader.” Meanwhile, Andrew Hanson, Outreach Manager at UK’s National Physical Laboratory, was impressed by the writers’ ability to “reframe the weird world of quantum particles within human scale and emotional levels”.

The shortlisted writers hail from Canada, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. They have taken inspiration from quantum physics concepts, including the many-worlds interpretation and entanglement, to craft stories about family ties, Father Christmas, and fallible creators in not more than 1000 words.

The ten shortlisted stories in alphabetical order are:

  • A World in Threads – Acadia Reynolds tells a fantastical tale about red threads of probability, quantum realities and family ties.
  • Clare's Prism – Quantum messages come through from a daughter to her mother in this story by Dave Chua.
  • Degenerate Sanity – A quest to reverse an unprecedented consequence of interworld expeditions unfolds in Mahnoor Fatima’s story.
  • Entanglement – In this story by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris, quantum physics is a topic for connection as a mother deals with her daughter leaving home.
  • Quantum cake à la Solvay – Pippa Storey tells a tale in verse and rhyme, of quantum events and people through time.
  • Red Light, Blue Light – Written by Ioana Burtea, this is a story of entanglement, love and longing.
  • Root Consciousness – Tony Tsoi’s flash fiction of a biophysicist’s journey to reconnect with long-lost family.
  • Santa Claus and the Quantum Librarian – In this Christmas story by S.A. McNaughton, a child plans to observe Santa.
  • The Observer – Unobserved photons are leaking from a supposedly observed universe in Dan Goodman’s take on the observer effect.
  • Two Lives Stretched Out Before Them – In this story by Janel Comeau, the quantum computer decides if a couple’s relationship ends, or does it?

 

Congratulations to the shortlisted authors! They are already rewarded for their efforts. They have won a USD 100 shortlist award and a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American. They also win the chance for greater rewards as our judging panel decide the First Prize and Runner Up.

You can have your say in deciding the final prizes too. Voting for the People’s Choice prize is now open on the Quantum Shorts website and closes at 11:59 PM GMT on 29 March 2024.

Since we had so many excellent submissions this year, we would like to give an honorable mention to five more. These stories were favourites of some of the judges but did not quite make the shortlist. They are Qubit Superhighway by Liam Hogan, Play That Funky Music by Max Gallagher, The Experiment by Natasha Irving, Equestrian Physicist Needed ASAP by Lily Turaski, and Think of Your Left Foot by Cadence Mandybura.

“It is bittersweet to announce our final shortlist. Since the Centre for Quantum Technologies started Quantum Shorts in 2012, our scientific field has advanced tremendously, but science fiction is always a few steps, worlds or universes ahead. Thank you to all the writers and filmmakers who have shared their inventive takes with us,” said shortlisting judge Jenny Hogan, Associate Director, Outreach and Media, at the Centre for Quantum Technologies.

 

* Due to personal circumstances, David Hutchinson of the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies was not able to provide input on the shortlist.

 

 

Quantum Theories: A to Z

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

E is for ...
Ethics

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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qc7gpabEhQ&t=2s 

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.

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.

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.

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!

K is for ...
Key

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

U is for ...
Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

T is for ...
Time

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

T is for ...
Time travel

Is time travel really possible? This article looks at what relativity and quantum mechanics has to say.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ...
Interferometer

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

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.

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 ...
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.

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.

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.

K is for ...
Kaon

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

M is for ...
Maths

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

G is for ...
Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

S is for ...
Superposition

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

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.

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.

C is for ...
Clocks

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.

R is for ...
Randomness

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

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.

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 ...
Computing

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.

I is for ...
Information

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ...
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.

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 ...
Sensors

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

Copyright © 2024 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.