atomQuantum Physics is not your typical hobby. It's certainly not mine. But as a lifelong learner and writer, I jumped at a recent chance to attend three days of quantum wonderfulness at the Joint Quantum Institute, housed at the University of Maryland. Bosons, fermions, and anyons, oh my!
Our workshop, the Schrodinger Sessions, was organized by Chad Orzel, author of How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog and holder of a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics. He and his colleagues, Emily Edwards and Steve Rolston, brought seventeen writers to campus on the last weekend in July and treated us to lectures, lab tours, and experiments. We slept in a dorm, ate in a food hall, and filled our brains with possibilities. Great conversations at night in the student lounge were also a boon, as was the hospitality of the university staff and the graduate students who answered our lab questions.
Let me admit I had some apprehension before going. Physics was never my strong point, and I worried I'd be lost. As it turns out, however, quantum physicists are very happy to admit they're sometimes lost, too. The behavior of tiny particles at unimaginably small scales is something that has flummoxed scientists for decades. "Shut up and calculate" is a great motto to get a scientist out of the weeds of why atoms do certain things to the more fruitful field of how to utilize such phenomena in science, medicine, cryptology, and fields yet to even be discovered.
The cost for such great learning was minimal. We had to pay our own travel costs and for a few stray meals. Housing was covered, as was our last night dinner. Chad worked hard to find funding and make the workshop economically feasible. Many thanks to him, Emily, Steve and all the folks at JQI, as well as the American Physical Society, for their kindness and generosity in sharing knowledge.  
Most writers love research and chances to gather details that make our work ring true. Opportunities like the Schrodinger Sessions exist and are publicized often on Facebook or Twitter. I hope that you, too, are able to seize chances to learn from experts in whatever genre you're writing in. Learning is a lifelong adventure, and whole new worlds of knowledge await us. 

Posted by Sandra McDonald

Filed as: Conferences, Science Fiction, Science, Physics, Fun