News

 
Unveiling the winners
31 Mar 2016

We'r thrilled to announce the results of the Quantum Shorts 2015 flash fiction contest! We are awarding prizes to four stories from the more than 400 entries to our flash fiction contest: visit our winning stories page to find out which ones. You will also find comments from the judges, interviews with the authors and original artwork.

 
Countdown
25 Mar 2016

Hold in there - the results are coming! We're sorry to have kept you waiting so long to learn the winners of the Quantum Shorts flash fictions contest. Unforeseen circumstances derailed our original judging timetable, but we now have everything in place. We will be announcing the results by the end of March.

 
It's almost time
23 Feb 2016

We're getting ready to announce the results...

Thanks to everyone who voted in the public poll - that's more than 1,500 of you! The People's Choice is decided. But we're not going to tell you who's won yet. We are saving that news to reveal at the same time as we announce the judges' selections.

You'll be pleased to know that our judges are close to reaching a conclusion too. Visit the shortlists page to refresh your memory of what made our top ten in each category. 

If you've exhausted the trove of stories on this site, you could take a look at the nominees for this year's Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for something new for your reading list. This report includes links to the pieces available online. 

 
The shortlists are out!
23 Dec 2015

We are delighted to announce the shortlists for the Quantum Shorts 2015 flash fiction competition! Please go here to see what’s made our top ten in the Open and Youth categories. Whether your taste leans to poetic or plot-driven, you’ll find stories to enjoy.

Our eminent judges are now deliberating the awards. You can play a role in picking a winner too: the People’s Choice prize will be determined by public vote. Cast your vote in the poll on the shortlisted stories by 31 January 2016 to help decide who wins the $1000 prize.

The shortlists were chosen by a panel of physicists, writers and representatives of the scientific partners.One panel member said they sorted stories with one column reserved for amazing ones - then had to start adding exclamation marks, ending up with a "super amazing" list and a "ridiculously amazing" list, the latter earning double exclamation marks!! We hope you’ll be similarly impressed.

We offer hearty thanks to everyone who entered the contest this year. There were many stories we loved that we couldn't squeeze into a top ten. You can still browse other entries to the contest after you have devoured the stories on the shortlists.

 
What happens next?
16 Dec 2015

The Quantum Shorts contest received over 400 entries! Whew. Now we've finished moderating them all, that means there's a lot of fantastic flash fiction waiting for you on the site. Head to the entries section if you want to browse through the stories.

What happens next? We originally planned to announce the shortlists and open voting for the People's Choice prize on 16 December. But there are so many great stories that we're going to need longer to decide the shortlists. We're pushing the announcement back a week to give our panel more time to read and deliberate.

We're sorry to keep you on tenterhooks. The top ten stories in each category will still be announced in time for you to enjoy them over the holiday period. If you sign up to the contest newsletter, you'll get an email when the shortlists are out.

 
Spooky mini-contest winner
27 Nov 2015

For our final mini-contest of the year, we asked if you could coin a phrase to describe entanglement that's better than "spooky action at a distance". That was how Einsten described the phenomenon in the 1930s. Our judges for this mini-contest, author George Musser and physicisist Christian Kurtsiefer, have picked out some favourite responses and one winner.

Congratulations to Twitter user @kapiltelang, who wins the mini-contest with this suggestion:

 

 

His prize is a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American and a copy of George Musser's new book, Spooky Action At a Distance.

"I like 'mutual existence' because it captures the principle that entangled particles behave as a single unified system, with global properties that do not reside on either particle, or even derive from them. Two particles can have opposite spins even though neither actually has a spin; the system has a property of 'oppositeness' that doesn’t derive from the particles," says George.

"The term 'spooky action at a distance' nicely captures the deep mystery posed by quantum entanglement, but physicists today object to it for two reasons. First, Einstein coined the phrase to be derogatory, because he thought that entanglement couldn't be genuine. Second, the term connotes a causal process that links the entangled particles together, like the action at a distance of Newtonian gravity, and such a process has been convincingly ruled out by now. As the CQT's Valerio Scarani and his colleagues have shown, the process would need to operate infinitely fast, which beggars the meaning of the word 'process'. Also, over the past few months experimentalists in Queensland and Edinburgh have directly tested whether one particle is influencing another and found no such influence," he adds.

So can mutual existence depose spooky action? "I think the term 'spooky action at a distance' will endure, just as the term 'big bang' has endured despite the fact it was originally meant to be derogatory. But neither of these terms should be taken too literally. Spooky action is not an action, and the big bang was not a bang," says George.

Find some of the judges' other favourite responses to the mini-contest in our Storify here

 

 
The story behind the story: Dice
18 Nov 2015

Are you curious about who is contributing to Quantum Shorts and where their ideas come from? This is a short interview with Betony Adams, runner up in the 2013 Quantum Shorts flash fiction contest. Her short story Dice was praised by 2013 judge Patrick Nielsen Hayden, manager of the SF and fantasy line at Tor Books, who said "I liked the way it shifts levels and fakes the reader out". Mariette di Christina, who oversees Scientific American and is a judge again this year, said "Most of all, I enjoyed a story that went about its business with subtlety and elegance and displayed a strong narrative arc."

How did you hear about the Quantum Shorts contest?

Betony: I was an MSc student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. My supervisor, Professor Francesco Petruccione – himself a quantum physicist - told me about it.

What inspired your story Dice?

Betony: Einstein is often quoted as having said, in response to the essentially random nature of quantum theory, that god does not play dice with the universe. Apart from the vivid image it gave me of a dice-tossing deity, I was struck by the analogy. At least for me, the idea behind a dice-roll or coin-toss, behind the lure of gambling, is of pure potential more than winning. Before the dice lands or the coin settles, everything is still possible. I quite like this as a way of conceptualising god, as the space of absolute possibility. To be human, in comparison, is to struggle with diminishing possibility, to watch as the measure of a life destroys all the other possible paths we might have taken.

What are you most excited by in science now?

Betony: I find quantum biology, the application of quantum theory to biological systems, very interesting. That something on a scale as large as migrating birds’ circumnavigation of the earth might be related to something as small as the spin of an electron is quite wonderful. Other astonishing topics include how strange quantum effects like coherence and electron tunneling might help turn light into matter through photosynthesis, or explain the way in which the sense of smell works or how brains respond to anaesthetic. There’s quite a bit of poetry in it.

I also think epigenetics is fascinating. A recent experiment where mice were given electric shocks when exposed to the scent of cherry blossom to induce a fear response, found that this fear response was passed on to future generations through methyl attachments in their DNA. The fact that history is in us, quite literally, the ghost in our molecular machine, I find beautiful and terrible at the same time. Beautiful because we have traces of other lives in our cellular memory, and terrible for the same reason, that birth is not a clean slate, that trauma endured by one generation is generated to the next, written in the body.

 
Spooky action that isn't
13 Nov 2015

Can you do better than Einstein? In the 1930s he described entanglement as “spooky action at a distance” but experiments since have proven entanglement involves no action. As we understand it now, entanglement is not spooky, but it is telling us something deep about the universe. So we want to give you the chance to coin a better phrase!

Enter our final mini-contest* by tweeting your suggestions with the hashtag #quantumshorts by 23:59 UTC on 19 November. Our favourite entries will win a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American magazine and a copy of the new book Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser,a contributing editor at Scientific American.

When two particles are entangled their properties are defined only relative to each other. If you have two atoms with spins, for example, you could say their spins point in opposite directions but not know which way. This gets weird if you separate the atoms, then measure the direction of one. You instantly know where the other one is pointing too. Does the second atom feel some nonlocal ‘spooky action’?

This year a trio of experiments have closed the loop-holes in experiments testing that entanglement is instant – there can be no propagating action from one particle to the other – and that there’s no way the particles’ properties were predetermined. So where does that leave us?

“Nonlocal phenomena leap out of space; they have no place in its confines. They hint at a level of reality deeper than space, where the concept of distance ceases to apply, where things that appear to lie far apart are actually nearby, or perhaps are the same thing manifested in more than one place,” writes Musser in his book. Read more in this extract from his book republished by Gizmodo.

So calling entanglement spooky action at a distance is not doing it justice. How can we describe it instead? We look forward to your ideas!

*Refer to the eligibility rules and content restrictions of the main contest's official rules. Please keep entries family-friendly: think PG-13. 

 
What should Newton know?
12 Nov 2015

Sir Isaac Newton died almost 300 years ago, meaning he’s missed out on a lot of physics discoveries since he wrote Principia Mathematica. Our most recent mini-contest from the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech asked you to compose a tweet telling him about quantum physics. We’ve picked out a winner:

Newton’s ideas about gravity were supposedly sparked by a falling apple. Hassan wins a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American for introducing the unfamiliar and remarkable concept of quantum entanglement with the help of this familiar fruit. Congratulations Hassan, and thanks to everyone who entered! We enjoyed your ideas for what to tweet back in time. We’ve collected a few more of our favourites here.

 
Haiku mini-contest results
30 Oct 2015

Did you hear about our haiku challenge? This Quantum Shorts mini-contest by our scientific partner ARC EQuS received over 100 entries. Thanks to everyone who participated!

The winning entry came from Igor Teper in the United States (see below). Igor has won a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American. Congratulations, Igor!

Superposition.
I'm in two places at once.
You are in neither.
- Igor Teper

The judges at ARC EQuS also shortlisted a few other haikus which were too wonderful to pass up. Go read these highly-commended runners up on the EQuS website.

 
Tweet back in time
29 Oct 2015

It's time for another mini-competition! Sir Isaac Newton is considered by many to have been one of the greatest physicists of all time. Born in the 17th Century, his contributions to science included the invention of calculus, the first description of gravity and the theory of classical mechanics. You probably remember learning Newton's laws of motion in school! But despite Newton’s contributions to classical physics, the man never fathomed that the world is actually governed by the equations of quantum mechanics. 

Our friends at Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, a partner in Quantum Shorts, think it is time to right that wrong. With your help, they plan to send a Tweet back in time (something about time machines restricts quantum telegraphs to 140 characters) that explains what quantum is all about to Sir Isaac. Don't forget to include the hashtag #quantumshorts to make sure you're included in the contest. 

This mini competition is taking place on Twitter and ends at 23:59 UTC, November 5, 2015. Our favourite entry will win a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American

 
Thriller winner
15 Oct 2015

Who won last week's Quantum Shorts mini-challenge? Our friends at the Institute for Quantum Computing were feeling October's Halloween vibe: they asked you to tweet a quantum-themed thriller title with the hashtag #quantumshorts.

The winner, selected from some 80 entries, was:

Congratulations to Twitter-user @MysticNoesis, whose prize is a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American!

Find some more of our favourite entries collected here

 
Can you haiku?
14 Oct 2015

We're pleased to announce the second Quantum Shorts mini-contest* of the season! Our scientific partner EQuS, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, is hosting a week-long competition for haiku inspired by quantum physics. Our favourite will win a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American.

Here's the challenge:

Can you write about an aspect of quantum physics in just three lines? To celebrate Quantum Shorts, EQuS is challenging people around the world to describe the wonder of quantum physics in 17 syllables through haiku.

Little haiku comp / celebrates quantum weirdness / Enter yours today

Submit your entries at http://equs.org/news/haiku-challenge by 23 October, 23:59 Australian EST (that's 9:59 US Eastern Time).

*Refer to the eligibility rules and content restrictions of the main contest's official rules. Please keep entries family-friendly: think PG-13.

Look out too for the results from our first mini-competition for quantum thriller titles on Twitter, coming to the site and our newsletter soon!

 
A mini-competition!
1 Oct 2015

Join us on Twitter for the first of this year's Quantum Shorts mini-competitions. We'll be awarding a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American for our favourite entry!

This spooky contest is brought to you by contest partner the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. They have this challenge for you:

It’s October – the month of ghosts and ghouls. To get ready for Halloween we have a mini Quantum Shorts contest* for one week. Give us your best title for a quantum-themed thriller on Twitter. The catch: it can only be 125 characters. (You need your other 15 characters for the hashtag: #quantumshorts.)

Tweet your entries using the hashtag by October 8, 11:59 PM EST. We’ll announce the winner on October 15 at 12:00 PM EST.

*Refer to the eligibility rules and content restrictions of the main contest's official rules. Please keep entries family-friendly: think PG-13.

 
The story behind the story
28 Sep 2015

Are you wondering how to start writing for Quantum Shorts? We asked the winner of our 2013 contest, Brian Crawford, about the inspiration behind his story  The Knight of Infinity

How did you hear about the contest?

Brian: I saw an advertisement for the Quantum Shorts contest while thumbing through a Scientific American magazine on an airplane. It’s ironic that I discovered this futuristic contest in a print advertisement.

What inspired your story?

Brian: There may have been some quantum entanglement at work in the events leading up to my writing The Knight of Infinity. I had just visited my clairvoyant dentist (seriously), and she told me I should explore quantum physics and multiple universes in my writing. I always agree with my dentist, because I can’t talk back. The next day I saw the ad in Scientific American.

At the same time, there was lot of debate in the news about California’s proposed bullet train, so the idea of Rider Quinn’s train was born.

I’ve been fascinated with quantum physics since college. And I love bending my mind around the concept of infinity, the idea that everything that could happen is happening, an infinite number of times. So there’s an infinite number of Brian Crawford’s typing this right right now, and a second ago, and a million years from now, and this Brian has blue hair, and that one is typing with his nose, and… you get the picture.

What do you think makes good science fiction? Do you have any tips for people who are going to enter Quantum Shorts this year?

Brian: The science is important, but focus more on the universal elements of a good story. Make the reader care about your characters in as few words as possible. As for popular contests, my little brother told me this about karaoke: This isn’t the place to demonstrate your mastery of some obscure opera. The audience wants something they can relate to. So put on a universal song, and sing your heart out.

 
What's on the site so far
15 Sep 2015

Over the next few months this site should fill up with stories. To give you a flavour of what you can look forward to, we've uploaded some of the best stories submitted to Quantum Shorts 2013. Find the 2013 winners and runners up on the featured stories page, and some of the shortlisted stories here. Elsewhere on the site you can find resources to inspire your writing, instructions on how to enter, introductions to our wonderful judges and the contest rules. Whether you are here to be entertained, to learn or to be inspired to write a story yourself - enjoy!

 
Thank you to the contest partners
15 Sep 2015

The Quantum Shorts contest is supported by a stellar collection of partners. We are thrilled to welcome back to the competition as media partners Scientific American, the longest continually published magazine in the US, Nature, the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal, and Tor and Tor.com, the leading science fiction and fantasy publisher. We're also delighted to be working with quantum research centres around the world. Joining us as scientific partners are the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech and the Joint Quantum Institute, a research partnership between University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.