The organizers of World Quantum Day, celebrated annually on April 14, want to shift how people think about quantum physics. What can seem like a bafflingly abstract theory tinged with science fiction is actually a fundamental description of reality, the basis of technologies we use every day, and a foundation for future applied science. Whether it’s seen through the lens of fact or fiction, quantum physics has an undeniable “cool” factor, and quantum scientists working in different fields—including fusion energy—are embracing quantum coolness to spread awareness about real science.
NIST has the idea: For an engaging look at the science and potential of all things quantum, check out the April 12 blog post from the National Institute of Standards and Technology: “From GPS to Laser Pointers, Quantum Science Is All Around Us, ” written by Andrew Wilson, chief of NIST’s Quantum Physics Division. Wilson explains how scientists went from the quantum mechanics concept of superposition behind Quantum 1.0 technologies such as lasers, to future Quantum 2.0 applications of that make use of both superposition and entanglement in applied science and computing.
“Because quantum mechanics is not an everyday experience for most people, it can seem very strange,” Wilson says. “But quantum is not just a theory, it’s just the way nature is. For those of us who work with this every day, it’s not mysterious or abstract. It’s as practical as anything else that we deal with during the day, including pens and coffee.”
Wilson describes quantum science and technology with infectious enthusiasm. “As for quantum, it’s just cool, right?” he asks, adding, “There’s almost nothing cooler than lasers. If you’ve only seen the little red dots of a laser pointer, come into some of these labs, and you’ll see the most incredible colors in nature. It’s basically a rainbow on steroids. They’re so beautiful and just wonderful to be around. There’s also a profound sense of joy from seeing something that no one has ever seen before, sometimes a discovery that scientists have been seeking for decades.”
Just what is quantum physics? The international website for World Quantum Day puts it this way: “Quantum physics is the most fundamental theory we have to describe nature, namely at the level of the elementary particles and forces that constitute the Universe. Furthermore, quantum physics is at the origin of transformational technological developments that helped shape the society of today, such as the transistor, the laser, medical imaging, to name just a few. And, over the last decades, quantum science expanded beyond physics and has been transforming our understanding of information and opening the prospect for new and revolutionary information technologies, such as quantum computers and a quantum internet. However, the foundations of quantum physics remain a source of scientific and philosophical debate.”
World Quantum Day was first declared in 2021 and is now celebrated annually “on and around” April 14 in reference to 4.14, the rounded first digits of Planck’s constant: 4.135667696 × 10−15 electronvolt seconds (eV·s). Quantum mechanics describes how energy is exchanged in specific amounts known as quanta, and the Planck constant defines how much energy is in each quantum (the singular form of quanta).
“Quantum science for $800”: Quantum science made its first appearance as a Jeopardy! category earlier this week, just in time for World Quantum Day.
Spiros Michalakis, staff researcher and manager of outreach at Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, is the U.S. representative in the international World Quantum Day Network. Michalakis was filmed presenting clues for contestants for the “Double Jeopardy!” round of the game show that aired on Monday, April 10. He shared his experience with Jeopardy! in an article published on the World Quantum Day website on April 13.
“Producers from Jeopardy! were quite enthusiastic to introduce the first-ever quantum science category and have the show air the week of the World Quantum Day,” he said. “I worked with them on some of the clues, and one of their clue masters found out I had helped introduce the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, so that became one of the clues. They came to Caltech to film at one of our fancy quantum labs a few weeks later. It was a blast!”
The fictional Quantum Realm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted in the 2015 film Ant-Man, followed by sequels Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania—in theaters now.
Quantum physicist Tom Wong, a physics professor at Creighton University, reviewed the latest movie on Medium. “Thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more and more quantum scientists are using the term ‘quantum realm’ to refer to the domain where nature is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, especially when communicating with the general public,” Wong wrote. “This real quantum realm is a part of our universe, however, not an alternate one like the movie. In fact, quantum mechanics enables everyday technologies like computer chips, lasers, LEDs, solar panels, GPS, and smoke detectors. The use of ‘quantum realm’ in formal scientific settings remains limited, however. . . . Even though the science in Quantumania is not very accurate, the visibility that it gives to quantum physics does make a positive impact.”
Quantum and fusion: entangled? The Department of Energy’s Office of Science supports quantum information science (QIS). Fusion energy science has a unique relationship to quantum science that was explored in the 2018 workshop “Fusion Energy Sciences Roundtable on Quantum Information Science.” A report from that workshop identified priority research opportunities classified as either “Quantum for Fusion” or “Fusion for Quantum.” Quantum computing could tackle classical plasma physics problems in a new way, and quantum simulation and quantum sensing for plasma diagnostics could help fusion energy overcome specific scientific challenges. In turn, plasma science could yield novel quantum materials for computing and communications and lead to insights into quantum communication and simulation and control of quantum systems.
In August 2019, the DOE put $21.4 million into funding for QIS related to both particle physics and fusion energy sciences. The following year, the DOE announced in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation that it would award $625 million over five years (subject to appropriations) to establish QIS research centers at Argonne, Brookhaven, Fermi, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Fun and games: The National Quantum Initiative Coordination Office, part of the OSTP, is participating in this year’s World Quantum Day. The OSTP and the National Science Foundation collaborate on the National Q-12 Education Partnership.
Students and teachers (or anyone!) can check out the hands-on activities and online games at QuanTime, a project of the National Q-12 Education Partnership designed to “ensure a strong quantum learning environment” for the future quantum workforce.