Quantum Physics explained through Steampunk

What do smoky London streets, flying submarines, waistcoats, petticoats, Sherlock Holmes puzzles, and brass goggles have to do with quantum computers?

According to Nicole Yunger Halpern, a lot. Last week, the theoretical physicist discussed her new book, “Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow,” with Jacob Barandes, co-director of graduate studies for physics. Yunger Halpern deconstructs a new field of science called quantum thermodynamics, or quantum steampunk, by combining steampunk fiction with facts and Victorian-era thermodynamics (the heat and energy that keeps steam engines running) with quantum physics. Yunger Halpern creates a comical prism through which readers can see a “real-time scientific revolution,” according to Barandes, delving into puzzles that even Holmes couldn’t answer, such as why time flows in just one direction.

Yunger Halpern remarked during a virtual Harvard Science Book Talk hosted by the University’s Division of Science, Cabot Science Library, and Harvard Book Store, “This blend of old and modern provides a lovely sense of nostalgia and adventure, romance and discovery.” She went on to say that in steampunk, “Fans dress up in top hats, goggles, and gears and attend conventions in costume. I have the incredible luxury of being able to live what they aspire.”

Yunger Halpern, a fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maryland, introduces readers to the complex and fantastical world of quantum thermodynamics through steampunk, which combines Victorian style and futuristic technology. The new discipline combines quantum physics, information science, and energy research to investigate novel methods of powering automobiles, charging batteries, encrypting data, and cooling quantum computers.

“How can we apply the Victorian theory of thermodynamics to tiny quantum and information-processing systems, as opposed to massive everyday-type systems like steam engines?” “We reach back to the past and move to the future,” Yunger Halpern inquired.

Barandes utilized Yunger Halpern’s ability to communicate difficult quantum principles with humor to lead their dialogue. While the majority of “Quantum Steampunk” is nonfiction, Yunger Halpern begins each chapter with a steampunk-style fictional story starring characters like Audrey and Baxter. These aren’t simply Victorian-era scientific renegades flying around in dirigibles and fiddling with time machines; they’re steampunk versions of Alice and Bob, nicknames physicists frequently assign to quantum particles to make their actions simpler to understand.

Yunger Halpern devised a zoo of metaphors to introduce her field’s numerous esoteric meanings. Yunger Halpern, for example, compares weak quantum measurements, which are used to analyze a quantum system without disrupting it, to a hummingbird “that alights very lightly on your shoulder.”

Yunger Halpern used another bird, Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, to illustrate the essential idea of entropy. Simply put, entropy is a measure of uncertainty. To exercise control over quantum particles in the extremely tiny world of quantum physics, scientists must unravel additional entropies or uncertainty. In bigger systems with more particles, such as steam engines, fewer and fewer entropies matter.

“It reminded me of a section of “The Raven,”‘ Yunger Halpern stated before launching into a rendition of several stanzas from Poe’s famed poem. “All of his dreams, nightmares, worries, and horrors converged on this one raven,” she explained. “That is probably an outlandish way of expressing that in conventional thermodynamics, all of these quantum entropies collapse onto just one.”

Barandes jumped in to pick up where Yunger Halpern left off before asking his next question, reading another verse of “The Raven” at near-quantum speed. (“My wife is rolling her eyes,” he observed when Yunger Halpern that they collaborate on a lengthier recitation for Poetry Month at the end of the talk.)

Yunger Halpern was also asked by Barandes to comment on the future of quantum computers and when they may become widespread. According to Yunger Halpern, such machines can do more with less, which means they can solve considerably more complicated problems faster and with fewer resources than traditional computers.

Yunger Halpern had shown a snapshot of a modern-day quantum computer earlier in her discussion, which looked like a precise network of delicate metals, just like a nice steampunk contraption. But, she continued, that device was only the quantum computer’s refrigeration; the quantum computer was a small, fragile chip in the middle, like the crown jewels in the Tower of London.

Quantum computers, while still decades away, might decipher communication flows or near-impenetrable encryption, according to Yunger Halpern. However, she stated, “Quantum computers aren’t right for every situation. I don’t advocate doing your taxes on one, for example.” While she doesn’t envisage one of these analytical behemoths in every home office, she does concede that today’s scientists have discovered things that the founders of quantum theory thought were impossible.

“I sincerely hope that quantum computers improve our lives in ways we can’t envision today,” Yunger Halpern said. Or, to paraphrase Poe’s Victorian lyric, which she’d just recited: “I just stood there… imagining fantasies that no mortal has ever dared to conceive.”

Tags : Article