Three stories win prizes in the Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition

The stories offer imaginative takes on the dangers of ignoring equipment warning signs, the quantum Zeno effect and quantum advantage.

“Helping Hands”, a spooky story about a quantum experiment gone awry, has bagged First Prize in the Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition.

The story about mishandled machinery just pipped Runner Up “Quantum et Circenses”, an account of a high-stakes quantum gameshow, in the judges’ estimation.

Quantum Shorts is organised by the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore, with media partners Scientific American and Nature, and scientific partners the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, the Dodd–Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, Canada, the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech, QuTech and the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

To award the stories for the top two prizes, a judging panel reviewed the ten stories shortlisted in the previous stage.  Chad Orzel, George Musser, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, José Ignacio Latorre, Lindy Orthia, Mariia Mykhailova and Tania De Rozario served as judges.

The third winner was decided by an online public vote: “Better, Faster, Stronger, Lonelier”, which imagines a conversation between a classical computer and a quantum computer, claimed the People’s Choice Prize.

Praising the shortlist, writer and visual artist Tania De Rozario said, “From cats stolen from other parts of the multiverse to questions about what it means to be sentient, these stories were a fun romp through some of the narrative possibilities that quantum mechanics has to offer storytelling.”

Cora Valderas from the United States of America combined her love for crime thrillers and horror stories with quantum physics to write “Helping Hands”, drawing inspiration from disaster stories throughout history involving sensitive equipment.  She receives USD1,500 for winning First Prize.  This is on top of the shortlist prize and one-year Scientific American digital subscription awarded to all finalists.

Physicist and author Chad Orzel called the story “a cool and creepy set-up”. “This also probably has the best voice of the lot, and some quality jokes about life in academia,” he said.

On her win, Cora said, “It was a wonderful surprise!  I had a nice celebratory dance in my car.  I wasn’t expecting to be chosen for the shortlist to begin with, and I just feel so honored and happy.”

Sabrina Patsch from Germany, author of “Quantum et Circenses”, wins the runner up prize of USD1,000.  She was inspired by her own research as a PhD student into the quantum Zeno effect, where things can become trapped by the laws of quantum physics.

Researcher Lindy Orthia said, “I love the idea that any new technology gets turned into a gameshow, and this story very cleverly conveys the feeling of perpetual quantum uncertainty for the contestant upon winning or losing.”

Álvaro Buendía from Spain, winner of the People’s Choice prize for his story “Better, Faster, Stronger, Lonelier” is also a PhD student.  Inspired by the constraint phrase of the competition, “it’s a lot to think about”, while he was learning to use a computer cluster, he wrote the story about the idea of quantum advantage.

Congratulations to the winners!  Find all the shortlisted stories, and interviews with the shortlisted authors on their inspiration on the Quantum Shorts website.

Major funding support

Australian Research Council

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present.