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Apr 2, 2022

Using steampunk to explain quantum physics

Posted by in categories: computing, environmental, quantum physics

What do quantum computers have to do with smog-filled London streets, flying submarines, waistcoats, petticoats, Sherlock Holmesian mysteries, and brass goggles?

A whole lot, according to Nicole Yunger Halpern. Last week, the joined Jacob Barandes, co-director of graduate studies for physics, to discuss her new book, “Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow.” In it, Yunger Halpern dissects a new branch of science—quantum thermodynamics, or quantum steampunk as she calls it—by fusing steampunk fiction with nonfiction and Victorian-era thermodynamics (the heat and energy that gets pumping) with . Yunger Halpern presents a whimsical lens through which readers can watch a “scientific revolution that’s happening in real time,” Barandes said, exploring mysteries even Holmes couldn’t hope to solve, such as why time flows in only one direction.

“This fusion of old and new creates a wonderful sense of nostalgia and adventure, romance and exploration,” Yunger Halpern said during a virtual Harvard Science Book Talk presented by the University’s Division of Science, Cabot Science Library, and Harvard Book Store. In steampunk, she continued, “fans dress up in costumes full of top hats and goggles and gears and gather at conventions. What they dream, I have the immense privilege of having the opportunity to live.”

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