The Quantum Physics of Harry Potter, Broken Down By a Physicist and a Magician

If you con­sid­er your­self a Har­ry Pot­ter fan, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly read read all sev­en of J.K. Rowl­ing’s nov­els and watched all eight of their film adap­ta­tions. The ques­tion of where to go from there has many pos­si­ble answers. Some true believ­ers plunge straight into, and often con­tribute to, the vast body of unof­fi­cial read­ing mate­r­i­al that is Har­ry Pot­ter fan fic­tion. Oth­ers turn to the schol­ar­ship sur­round­ing Pot­ter and his world, a field that includes such stud­ies of vary­ing seri­ous­ness as The Sci­ence of Har­ry Pot­ter, Har­ry Pot­ter and Phi­los­o­phy, The Values of Har­ry Pot­ter, Look­ing for God in Har­ry Pot­ter, and If Har­ry Pot­ter Ran Gen­er­al Elec­tric. In the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to lec­ture above, quan­tum physi­cist Kris­ter Shalm explains, appro­pri­ate­ly enough, the quan­tum physics of Har­ry Pot­ter.

Shalm thus faces two tasks: to explain the rel­e­vant facts of quan­tum physics in a man­ner under­stand­able to the lay­man, and the even more for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge of relat­ing the rel­e­vant facts of Har­ry pot­ter in a way that won’t com­plete­ly alien­ate the unini­ti­at­ed. But pulling this off in an enter­tain­ing fash­ion would seem to land right in the wheel­house of a man who bills him­self as “The Danc­ing Physi­cist” and states his mis­sion to “make some of the mind-bog­gling con­cepts in quan­tum mechan­ics more approach­able” by col­lab­o­rat­ing with “a magi­cian, musi­cians, and dancers.” That magi­cian, a cer­tain Dan Trom­mater, turns up in this lec­ture to com­ple­ment Shalm’s phys­i­cal angle with a mag­i­cal one. Togeth­er, they illus­trate for us how Dra­co Mal­foy’s tele­por­ta­tion tech­niques resem­ble what quan­tum physi­cists do in the lab on a reg­u­lar basis, and what rel­e­vance Schrödinger’s famous cat has to that fate­ful prophe­cy that either Har­ry Pot­ter or Lord Volde­mort would ulti­mate­ly die. (Luck­i­ly for me, Shalm does­n’t reveal which one; I haven’t read the books myself yet!)

Relat­ed con­tent:

Cel­e­brate Har­ry Potter’s Birth­day with Song. Daniel Rad­cliffe Sings Tom Lehrer’s Tune, The Ele­ments.

Har­ry Pot­ter Pre­quel Now Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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