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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