Choose Your Own Con Panel

Kate and I will once again be attending Boskone in a couple of weeks, and for the second year running, I'll be on a handful of panels. I had a great time as a panelist last year, so I volunteered again, and I've been looking forward to finding out what I'll be on.

I got the preliminary schedule yesterday, and it seems I'm moderating a panel with the slightly alarming title "Is Science Fiction Necessary?" (There's no further description, other than a list of panelists (Tobias Buckell, Rosemary Kirstein, Karl Schroeder, Charles Stross), though that's apparently an oversight, and some more description should be on the way...)

More interesting than that is the final item on the list:

Sunday 2:00 pm: Weird Quantum Phenomenon

Chad Orzel

Leaving aside for the moment the apparent implication that I am a weird quantum phenomenon (which might be an even better title than "Slightly Annoyed Scientist"), I'm not entirely sure what this will be about. The fact that there's only one name seems to indicate that it's a 25-minute talk rather than a 55-minute panel, so I apparently need to carry this one all by myself.

(Granted, I brought this on myself-- I included "Weird quantum phenomena" on the list of topics I said I could talk about...)

I've got a few days to suggest changes (which presumably can include pluralizing the title, and adding some description). So, (he said, as scientists are wont to do), let me throw this one out to the audience: If you had twenty-five minutes to speak to an audience of science fiction fans on the topic of "Weird Quantum Phenomena," what would you talk about? Alternatively, if you were a SF fan going to a 25-minute talk on "Weird Quantum Phenomena," what would you like to hear about?

(I'm not totally without ideas-- if nothing else, I could print out a sheaf of old blog posts, and turn it into a reading-- but I have to admit, I didn't really have a coherent one-man show in mind when I put that on the list...)

(Also, as I've been earwormed with this all day, let me share my pain with the rest of the Sesame Street generation: "Phenomena." "Doo DOO de-doo-doo...")


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My favorite is the double slit, especially when the intensity is so low that only one particle at a time should be passing through the slit. Throw in the influence of detectors observing behind the slits and delayed choice about whether they're on and it always throws my students for a loop!

By Mr. Upright (not verified) on 02 Feb 2006 #permalink

Quantum computing. I mean, entanglement is cool, but it never looked to me like there was much you could actually do with it til I came across Shor's algorithm.

As my brother says, reading SF is a sacred duty of all scientists, SF classes should be mandatory in science grad schools, funds and time for reading SF should be allocated and paid for by the institution.

Whenever an Academy panel is given a task to investigate ethical and societal implications of new scientific findings or technological inventions, that is usually a couple of decades after SF authors have already thorougly investigated those same issues.

Some scientists use SF to teach science. Others offer courses on SF for scientists. Thinking about such a class, I tried to make a list (to be culled and narrowed down for a semester-worth of reading) of SF novels and stories that can be particularly useful here. The list is quite biologicocentric, so I'd like more input from practicioners of other sciences.

As for your Quantum talk - think from an authors perspective: what can be useful for the plot of the next novel?

Fermions ! Tell them how you have to rotate an electron twice to bring it back to its original state and how this lies at the heart of richness of the periodic table and hence so many things we see around us (via Pauli's exclusion principle).

Or, how using Aharanov Bohm effect, you can detect a magnetic field even without "going" into the region where the field is there !

Indeed, Truth is stranger than fiction...

So, I think technically it isn't "phenomena", it's "mahna-mahna", at least according to the CD in question.

Weird quantum phenomena:

  1. No chemistry without the Pauli principle. For example, if electrons were bosons then every element would have infinite valence. Furthermore, every electron would drop into the "1S0" state so there wouldn't be any bonds angles etc to play with. (1S0 is in quotes because the multielectron wavefunction would be far from a product wf because of the large effect of coulomb interactions between bosonic electrons; usually filled shells just renormalize the nuclear charge and the outer electrons can be treated simply, except for the chemistry and material science of some d-shell and all f-shell elements).
  2. There would be no metals if there were no quantum tunnelling. Actually what I mean here is that energy bands are due to tunnelling of the valence electrons when you bring together many identical atoms (metals are just one case).
  3. There would be no magnetic compasses without quantum mechanics
  4. There would be no sunlight without the Pauli principle. This is just the valence thing all over again, but now for the atomic nucleus, and the fact that the nuclear level spacings are crucial for the CNO cycle
  5. etc etc etc

I guess this is not what you wanted, but I love to make a point of this with students. A lot of the stuff that we take for granted in the world around us does not make sense unless the universe obeys quantum mechanics. Some students love this. Needless to say, others don't.

I just came across your blog, and I liked it.

Degenerate matter (white dwarfs) is good for a laugh. Gravity forces electrons to violate the pauli exclusion principle. Further gravitational force pushes the e- into the nucleus, creating a neutron star. Past that, you get a black hole.

At the event horizon of a BH, matter-antimatter pairs are formed from the ambient energy (E=mc^2), but may not mutually annihilate if one gets sucked back into the BH. Thus, BH gradually "leak" energy and are not eternal. I wouldn't want to be near one when it finally loses enough mass to explode!

Ahh, you've rumbled my gag with Phenomena.

Manah Manah makes a great cellphone ringtone.

By Erik V. Olson (not verified) on 03 Feb 2006 #permalink