Rene – Hi! Welcome to QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. My name is Rene from Valorem Reply and today we're going to talk about Quantum Steampunk. Yes, you heard that right and for this I'm very honored to have a special quantum physics and steampunk expert today, Nicole Yunger Halpern. Hi Nicole and welcome to the show, how are you today?
Nicole – Hello! I'm glad to be here. Thank you for having me although I do have a cold so I apologize in advance about sounding very nasa.
Rene - But first of all thank you so much for still doing this while you are you know having a cold but we will do our best and of course you will do your best and that's really much appreciated. Before we dive into the topics can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background as it relates to you know physics, quantum physics, chemistry all things related?
Nicole - I'm a theoretical Quantum Physicist at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Maryland. I earned my PhD at Caltech in physics under the auspices of John Preskell, one of the founders of quantum Computing and I was a postdoctoral fellow at The Institute for Theoretical Atomic Molecular and Optical physics at Harvard University and the Smithsonian after that I came to NIST.
Rene - Wow! That's some impressive already and yeah wow so impressed and you actually also wrote a book which is called Quantum Steampunk, the physics of yesterday's tomorrow, which sounds already like a super amazing title you know Quantum and steampunk like all of this together like this gets me excited already! But can you tell us what it is about and maybe you can also share some examples of how you know the Industrial revolution is meeting a Quantum Technology Revolution?
Nicole - Probably first I should explain what steampunk is. So steampunk is a genre of literature art in film. Steampunk stories are set in the Victorian era so the1800s and they combine these old settings with some of the earliest factories, people in top hats and full skirts and also futuristic technologies such as automata, time machines and flying ships. So steampunk has this lovely sense of adventure and exploration that comes from marrying the old with the new which is precisely I believe the spirit of quantum thermodynamics. Quantum thermodynamics is a field that has boomed over the past decade. Thermodynamics is the study of energy. It was developed during the Victorian era. The industrial revolution had just happened, engines were powering factories for the first time, people wanted to understand how efficiently engines could operate, so they developed the theory of thermodynamics to answer practical questions although thermodynamics ended up covering fundamental questions such as why does time flow in only one direction, since thermodynamics was developed during the 1800s in large part it was developed for large mini particle classical systems. Systems over which we have great control and are making a lot of progress today include very small and Quantum systems. So we need to extend thermodynamic concepts such as heat work even engines and efficiency to the quantum realm. We can do that in part using the mathematical conceptual and experimental tools of quantum information science. So I see quantum thermodynamics as blending victorian era thermodynamics with cutting edge and futuristic quantum information science and so really embodying quantum steampunk.
Rene – Awesome! I love that. And thermodynamics is a very important field of course. So, second question, basically, a quantum computing and thermodynamics are merging into this scientific field that you mentioned and it's like you also said it's quite accelerating today. Why is that and can you also share some examples?
Nicole - As I mentioned quantum thermodynamics as a field has boomed over the past decade. I believe one of the reasons is that Quantum information science matured during the early 2000s, the toolkit of thinking about information processing and entropies and operational tasks such as communicating over a noisy channel crystallized in large parts in the early2000s. Now we could use this way of thinking in order to analyze quantum systems in terms of how they store and process information. The quantum information science began being beyond to be applied to many different fields of science including chemistry, condensed matter physics and computer science and it also was applied to thermodynamics in order to reimagine it for the 21st century. There are loads of things happening in quantum thermodynamics and I give something of an overview in my book. For example, a fun example consists of quantum thermal machines that we can define engine cycles and refrigeration cycles that can be enacted on quantum systems that we can build quantum engines, quantum refrigerators, quantum batteries and quantum ratchets. An example of such quantum thermal machine that has been undergoing a lot of research lately is the Quantum battery. Results a few years ago showed that if you have a number of quantum batteries that consist of qubits and you want to charge them then you can charge them at a greater power if you entangle them than if you don't. So in the quantum thermodynamics in part we look for how quantum phenomena can be used to enhance thermodynamic tests such as the charging of batteries, the extraction of work and the refrigeration of items. Similarly to how Quantum phenomena can enhance information processing tasks such as computing in cryptography.
Rene - All right. I also noticed that for your book, you also have a short story contest like a Quantum steampunk short story contest and what is it, how can people get involved there?
Nicole - The short story contest is run by the quantum thermodynamics hub at the University of Maryland which colleagues and I established this past September. The short story contest is open to everybody age 13 and up. Write a short story of at most 3000 words in English with a steampunk style set at least in part in the 1800s and involving at least one quantum technology either real or imagined, submit your short story by January 15 2023 to us. You can google Quantum steampunk short story contest and find the Maryland Quantum thermodynamics hub’s website. There are fantastic prizes, we have forty five hundred dollars worth of prizes, including a fifteen hundred dollar grand prize also. The judging panel is fantastic, we have experts from across Quantum science and writing. For instance, we have as a judge Ken Liuwho, who is one of the leading lights of contemporary science fiction. He's won basically every large name science fiction prize you can think of. We expect the contest to be a lot of fun. So dream big and submit us what you come up with.
Rene – Awesome! What about if folks use something like open AI gpt3 to create a short story and form an AI, how do you actually know it's not from a real human and it's coming from an AI?
Nicole - Right, as a matter of fact, we were thinking about that when we formed the rules and I've read a fair amount about the interesting collaborations between human artists and AI that have been used recently in creative contests. I would be delighted in the future to run a version of the contest that actually has a category for AI collaborations. This first version of the contest needs to be human only so the rules do include a line about having written the entire work yourself. We can think about alternatives for the future.
Rene - Well we're already at the end of the show. Thank you so much Nicole, especially with the cold you're having that you were still able to join us today and talk about your fantastic book and also give your thoughts about some other topics there. It was very much appreciated.
Nicole - Thank you so much. Thank you for hosting me.
Rene - Thanks everyone for joining us for yet another episode of QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing, and steampunk a little bit today. Watch our blog and follow our social media channels to hear all about the next episodes, of course, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel to always get a notification and you can always watch previous episodes that are available on our website from season one to now season six. Thank you so much, take care and see you soon!