On Tuesday, September 20, at 5 pm we will have a chance to meet, via a Zoom Casual Conversation, Dartmouth Valedictorian Nicole Yunger Halpern, a theoretical physicist and a fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science at the University of Maryland. Dr. Halpern is also the author of Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow (Johns Hopkins University Oress 2022) ISBN 13: 978-1-4214-4372-0.
Or perhaps we should identify her also as Dartmouth Victorian in recognition of her commitment to join the classical world of yesterday (and today), including (of course) steam engines, and the quantum world, and its tiny engines, that first exposed itself to us through the work of distinguished physicists of the first part of the 20th century.
Here is her cv: https://quics.umd.edu/people/nicole-yunger-halpern .
And here is a short description of her research group: https://quantumsteampunk.umiacs.io/ .
While my experience with “Steampunk” is limited to the original Wild Wild West television series, I am entranced and mystified (in roughly equal parts—with a great deal of “surprisals” along the way) by her explanations, not only of basic scientific phenomena and definitions, but also by the experiments that she discusses. Perhaps you will come away from her book with a greater appreciation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, of what the different entropies exist, of what information is, what the scientific process is about, entanglement, superposition, uncertainty and measurement, and spin. Not necessarily in that order. Slowing the movement to higher entropy through many-body localization and thereby obtaining a higher efficiency in a quantum thermal machine is just one concept that she discusses (I think, but then again, perhaps I am just all (en)tangled up). I don’t pretend to understand what is going on, but I am delighted with the telling.
And you will be as well, by the science, and also by Dr. Halpern’s journey to her current vocation. Her present:
I’m not one of the steampunkers who appear if you google “steampunk photos”: I don’t own goggles or a greatcoat, and I don’t frequent steampunk conventions. I’ve read hundreds more physics papers than steampunk novels. I don’t fancy lacing up a corset, although I wear skirts most days. I “have” assembled a curiosity cabinet, containing a spyglass, a butterfly specimen, museum-exhibition posters, and old-fashioned keys collected from Spain and Oxford and Santa Barbara. But I take more pride in the curiosity cabinet that I’ve constructed by doing physics. This book unlocks that curiosity cabinet, the steampunk life I live.
This is your chance to bring the curiosity cabinet of your mind and discover a bit (pun intended) about quantum information theory, about the infinitesimally small world of quantum physics, and about what a Dartmouth Valedictorian and Victorian is doing.
The usual rules apply. RSVP to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day this coming Sunday, September 18, to let me know that you will be joining us.
P.S. It was reported last month in New Scientist (UNK) that Chinese scientists have developed a quantum algorithm for the Wordle-like game Mastermind. “However, existing quantum computers are too small and error-prone to be able to implement the algorithm yet...” My bet is on Dr. Halpern to solve this problem.