First World Quantum Day
- By John K. Waters
If we needed definitive evidence of the mainstreaming of quantum computing, it might be the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announcing the first-ever official World Quantum Day this week.
April 14 is the official date, and the OSTP noted in its announcement that 4.14 "marks the rounded first 3 digits of Planck’s Constant," which is a fundamental physical constant characteristic of the mathematical formulations of quantum mechanics. As the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica explain, German physicist Max Planck introduced his constant to "describe the behavior of particles and waves on the atomic scale, including the particle aspect of light."
There's also a sort of slogan: "[T]o everyone around the world we say, 'Let’s quantum together, Happy World Quantum Day!'"
Why is the White House acknowledging what is arguably the most challenging-to-understand fields of mathematics with an official holiday? The OSTP says it's because emerging quantum tech, such as quantum information science (QIS), "are poised to transform society."
"The Biden-Harris administration is dedicated to ensuring these advancements are used to advance the principles of freedom of inquiry, openness, transparency, honesty, equity, fair competition, objectivity, and democracy," the OSTP said. "World Quantum Day exemplifies these ideals by connecting people around the world and highlighting the need to create inclusive scientific communities – from classrooms to research centers – so that every person is able to fully participate and have an equal opportunity to succeed."
The World Quantum Day webpage provides a long list of federal activities marking the first World Quantum Day, as well as some resources on the topic itself.
The webpage poses the question, "Why quantum? Why now?" And then offers an answer: [Q]uantum mechanics has contributed to revolutionary technological advancements over the last century that are integrated into our daily lives. For example, semiconductor chips in our smartphones and computers operate in part using quantum mechanics. LASERS, LED lights, and LED monitors were developed based on our understanding of quantum mechanics. The Global Position System (GPS) that helps us navigate the world relies on the quantum mechanics of ultra-precise atomic clocks. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners in hospitals use quantum mechanics. Future technologies such as quantum computers, quantum sensors, and quantum communication devices may offer new and disruptive applications as well."
Among other resources supporting this celebration, there's a page with social media and video posts, and an infographic that explains Planck's Constant.
The OSTP announcement also pointed to the ongoing efforts of the National Quantum Initiative, which was launched in 2018. The OSTP described it as " a whole-of-government effort to accelerate QIS research and development in the United States." The National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO), a component of OSTP, is focused on supporting the National Quantum Initiative, which includes performing and supporting public outreach around QIS.
That outreach can be seen in efforts by the OSTP and the National Science Foundation (NSF), through the National Q-12 Education Partnership, along with NASA), to advance learning opportunities in the classrooms. The list of current educational projects includes:
- This Is Quantum: A montage video of students, teachers, scientists, and more sharing what quantum is, what technologies it has enabled, and what attracted them to the field. It includes an invitation, “Let’s quantum together,” and wishes to have a “Happy World Quantum Day.”
- QuanTime: A coordinated set of middle and high school quantum activities and games, each under an hour long. To date, over 150 teachers have signed up for the online and hands-on learning experiences. More than 600 kits were sent out, and thousands of students from at least 33 states will be engaging in quantum activities over the next month. And it is not too late to join the fun, as QuanTime activities are running until May 31, 2022. Sign up here.
- PhysicsQuest Kits: These kits help students discover quantum mechanics and learn about the incredible life and work of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Fellow Dr. Deborah Jin, who passed away in 2016. Dr. Jin was a leading quantum scientist who used lasers and magnets to cool down atoms and make new states of matter. To date, more than 15,000 kits have been distributed across the country.
- Learning Quantum with NASA: NASA developed classroom worksheets and online games for learning quantum.
More than 40 countries are taking part in the World Quantum Day celebration with more than 100 activities planned across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
"Continuing to engage with and support international cooperation is key," the OSTP says.
Toward this end, the United States recently signed "quantum cooperation agreements" with Finland and Sweden. The U.S. already has such agreements with Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of Converge360.com sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.