How to Celebrate a Hundred Years of Quantum Mechanics

Bard Professor Paul Cadden-Zimansky wants everyone from kindergarteners to CEOs to celebrate the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology in 2025. One of his goals for the initiative is to illustrate the many pathways to jobs in science and technology. He shares his own story that includes both a C in high school physics and a successful career as a professor and superconductivity researcher.

Paul Cadden-Zimansky is an associate professor of physics and director of the Physics Program at Bard College. A condensed matter physicist, Paul earned his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and has held research appointments at Columbia University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.  Paul also has a background in the history and philosophy of science, holding a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and is a former chair of the American Physical Society’s Forum on the History and Philosophy of Physics.  He is currently a member of the International Year of Quantum Executive Committee convened by the Physical Society to coordinate a global celebration and public outreach campaign celebrating 100 years of quantum mechanics in 2025. Learn more at


Veronica Combs: Hello, and welcome to the Quantum Spin by HKA. I’m Veronica Combs. I’m a writer and an editor here at the agency. I get to talk every day with really smart people working on really fascinating subjects. Everything in the quantum industry from hardware to software. On our podcast, we focus in on quantum communication.

And by that, I don’t mean making networks safe from hacking or entangling photons over long distance, but talking about the technology. How do you explain these complicated concepts to people who don’t have a background in science and engineering but want to understand all the same? 

So we often talk here at HKA about the importance of awareness. How do we get more people to be curious about quantum computing and invest some time and effort in learning about this technology, all kinds of quantum technology, not just computing. My guest today is taking a lead role in building that awareness at a global scale.

2025 is the international year of quantum. And Professor Paul Cadden-Zimansky is one of the leaders of that effort. Paul is an Associate Professor of Physics and Director of the Physics program at Bard College. He is a condensed matter physicist and he earned his PhD from Northwestern University and has held research appointments at Columbia University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Paul. I’m really looking forward to our conversation. 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Oh, thanks for having me, Veronica. It’s great to be here. 

Veronica Combs: As we were talking about your background, you mentioned that your undergrad degree is in liberal arts, and I know you studied at the London School of Economics.

You have a master’s degree, from there in the History and Philosophy of Science. I’m curious how you arrived at your current position as an Associate Professor of Physics at Bard. 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah, I would say academically, I’ve kind of gone back and forth between doing what I would call meaningful type questions, you know, philosophy, historical stories, you know, where do we come from? Where are we going? Type questions. And then physics questions, which is, you know, how do things work? How do you solve problems? How do you build things? And those two sectors are often kind of separated. And my technique for dealing with that separation was to oscillate back and forth between doing things that were more philosophical, historical, and then switching to physics, and switching back and forth.

And I’ve been oscillating back and forth for, I think, 25 years or so. But I really like these projects where you can bring both those things together about thinking about the science of things and the problem solving, but also, like, what is the sort of meaning and purpose? And why are people interested in science?

Why do people want to get involved with science? What are the things that science can help us with and not help us with? 

I think the past few years are working on this project about an international year of quantum to kind of connect those. And I think a lot of people who are interested in essentially having a hundredth birthday party for quantum mechanics understand that connection of yes, there’s the science, but there’s also the stories, and that society needs to hear about the larger meaning of things. and why quantum is important. 

Veronica Combs: I usually ask people who are working on new technologies, you know, I know all the good that this can do, but what else can it do? How could this be misused? So I think having that perspective of where have we been and where are we going, it’s more important than ever to ask those questions, just so we understand, have we made this mistake before, or is this a problem, an attractable problem that we now have a solution to? So I think that perspective is really important. One of our previous guests, Professor Chris Ferrie said that the most difficult audience to talk to is early undergraduates in physics. And I know that you teach those folks all the time. I’m curious about how you engage with that audience. 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah. So actually, I just taught an 8:30 AM Quantum Mechanics class this morning, and it’s even more challenging at 8:30 AM. No kidding. But, I try to be as kinetic as possible, I guess, is one way of getting attention. I would say it’s like any other group in that, there’s a diversity of places that people are coming from.

And there is no one magic bullet of a story or an approach that’s gonna work for everybody. All I’ve learned as a teacher is to have as many different stories as possible and to try to focus those in as many different ways as possible. And that again, it was part of the goal of the year, is some overarching messages about quantum being something very central to our understanding of physical reality.

Maybe the most central thing that we have, but also trying to spin off as many different stories about that as possible. Some of them are more technical stories. Some of them are more personal stories. Some of them are stories about the history of things. Some things are about the present to the future.

Maybe it’s about making money. Maybe it’s about just understanding the natural world better, but different people are going to react in different ways. And I think the more stories that we tell, the more we’ll see different ones catch on and different audiences take up those stories and repeat them.

Veronica Combs: And do you work that into your classes? Like where have we been and where are we going? That sort of more history of science or philosophy of science? 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: In general, if I’m talking to our broader audiences compared to students who signed up for a physics course, I do like to tell those stories, just in terms of engaging undergraduates. I was reminded of this passage in the writings of the philosopher, psychologist, William James. He noted that if he’s sort of lecturing on about this or that topic, and this or that technical detail, the students are kind of only half paying attention.

And then he says the magic words and all of a sudden everybody pays attention and the magic words are, let me tell you a story. You have to get through some technical things. You have to get through how do we solve this problem, that problem. But whenever I see attention flagging, I kind of pause and try to throw out some story.

And it’s very often a story about the past, some history story or some anecdote from that degree. It’s sometimes about, yeah, this is useful in this particular way, or there’s this outstanding problem that nobody has yet stalled, or this is still a mystery, and I think that, for the past, there’s lots of stories to draw on for the present. There’s lots of personal stories to draw from for the future. I mostly like talking about what are the sort of unsolved problems, what the sort of undiscovered country is. Whereas somebody in business might be promising, like this is going to happen or that’s going to happen. As an academic I have the luxury of saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s the exciting part.

Veronica Combs: It really is the exciting part. I was talking to a client the other day and he published a paper and we were writing a blog post about it and he said, well, you know, back in 1911 and he sort of traced the history of superconductivity discoveries.

That is really interesting to me, that long term perspective of, we don’t know what’s next, we’ve been working at this for a while and we don’t know what’s next.

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah. And you raise a great point in that something like that, like superconductivity, which has a hundred plus year history, was first discovered in 1911 and people understood one aspect of the phenomenon of essentially this perfect conductivity. So you know, if you have a bowl of water and you stir the water to make it rotate around, it’ll keep spinning around for a while, but after a while it’ll settle down.

If you do the same thing with current and superconductor, will you swirl it around? You can leave it for a year and come back and it’s still going, right? It’s amazing. And so this was discovered first. It was another 20 years before people discovered that it has these incredible magnetic properties as well.

And people may have Googled superconducting levitation. And you see these videos of things like sort of floating midair, but it was a mystery, like, how does this work? What’s going on inside these materials? And it turned out to be a lot of materials. It’s like most of the materials in the periodic table, you can get to be superconductors on the right conditions, usually low temperature conditions.

And a lot of physicists, including those people who founded quantum mechanics, worked on this problem, like how do we solve this problem? There’s something quantum going on, but it really took decades of thinking about the quantum mechanics, understanding that theory better, building up new tools in that theory, doing more experiments, and figuring out, little pieces of information here and there to help with their understanding before a theory was constructed for one type of superconductivity in the 1950s.

Right? So that took 40 years, 40 plus years right there just to do that, and that was a great success. And it’s really amazing and a beautiful theory. And then you think, okay, maybe that’s the end of the story. But 30 years later, they discovered a new class of superconductors which behave entirely differently.

And you need a different theory for them. And now since then, people discovered even more classes and we don’t understand how, all the more if that’s the undiscovered country, but it is this really long process where it’s not like there’s one discovery and then that’s it. And there’s a news headline and it’s over. 

It’s this very long process. But it makes for this sort of grand, exciting story, which spans lifetimes and decades.

Veronica Combs: and lots of Nobel prizes too 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: lots of Nobel prizes too for that one. Yeah. That one is a bit famous in that, the theory of superconductivity. One of the people who won that prize was John Bardeen, and that was his second Nobel prize in physics. He’s the only person to have won two. His first one was also notable. That was for co-inventing the transistor. He had a pretty good run as a physicist, but not a name that most people know, John Bardeen. 

Veronica Combs: Yes. I’m taking notes. I don’t know that one. I have my list of important physicists. I should know. So I’ll definitely put him on there. We, as I mentioned, we talk a lot about awareness. When we’re working with clients, we think about, how do you put this in the context, not only of the decades of scientific research, but also the business opportunities right now.

And we always try to bring people in and spark some curiosity and then make it easy for them to ask more questions. What do you think people who know something about quantum mechanics, quantum technology should communicate with the people who don’t know anything about it?

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah, I think that the biggest thing that, I think is a sort of elevator message, for people is getting to the understanding that quantum mechanics over this past hundred years has become the central theory for our understanding of the physical world. It has a tendency to be read as something a bit niche, like brain surgery, rocket science.

And those things are important, but they only apply in certain sectors and are important only at certain times in certain places. Whereas our understanding right now is that quantum mechanics underlies all reality, right? It is our best physical theory. It’s our most well tested physical theory, it applies to things that aren’t just small, you can see effects of quantum mechanics on galactic scales, and so I think most physicists have an understanding of that. They didn’t appreciate that when they first constructed quantum mechanics. They thought it was, oh, maybe this is rules about atoms or something like that.

But I think over the course of the hundred years, the story has kind of been, no, actually this is really like this grand framework for understanding everything around us, and this applies even for people who speculate about other universes and things like that. 

It’s a really foundational thing that affects everything. 

The technology side of that is that because we have this understanding about the world around us, we’ve been able to create all these new types of technologies, and we have a hundred-year track record of doing that.

So that track record sort of speaks well for like, what’s going to happen now? What’s going to happen in the future? We’re still developing our understanding of quantum mechanics.

This is still a work in progress. And the same thing is true in the technological side, it’s a vast undiscovered country of what we can potentially make and do with quantum mechanics.

And we have done lots of amazing things with that. We talked about transistors or solar panels, or, the superconducting magnets inside MRI machines, and so you have this great track record and this, which I think is just the start of something, and understanding that the future is going to involve quantum mechanics. 

Veronica Combs: Yes. And so 2025 marks a hundred years since Erwin Schrodinger developed wave mechanics and Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and Pascal Jordan developed matrix mechanics.

And so I wanted to make sure I got the full name in there. It’s the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology, because as you mentioned, there’s a lot of things fitting under that umbrella for the year. The website is So you can see the amazing group of organizations and individuals involved in this. Where did this idea come from? 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: A few years ago, I was sharing the subgroup of the American Physical Society, which is one of the largest organizations of physicists in the world. It actually has about 25 percent international members.

One trick you have when you’re considering getting people’s attention and you’re wanting to let them know about history is to look for anniversaries.

So you look for, oh, it’s been 20 years since this happened. Oh, it’s been 50 years since this happened. And then you do something on the occasion of that. That anniversary, and the magnitude of the thing you do depends on two factors. One is like, what is the thing you’re celebrating? How important is that?

And the other factors, how round is the number? And so we saw on the horizon, and this was back in 2018 when we first started talking about this, that in 2025 would be 100 years of quantum mechanics. And we couldn’t imagine anything more important than quantum mechanics. And we couldn’t imagine a better rounder number.

2005 was actually the International Year of Physics in honor of 100 years of some of Einstein’s most famous paper, but it’s a great signaling mechanism around the world, to peoples and governments, to coordinate celebrations for some topic or to have outreach efforts, bringing awareness of some topics.

So we thought this was a great opportunity to send that signal out, to make people aware of the centrality of quantum mechanics, because most people around the world have never even heard the word quantum. If they’ve heard the word quantum, they don’t know what it means. And so just getting them to like, oh, there’s this thing and it’s actually really important.

That moving the needle of that understanding would be the goal. I think it really caught fire during the pandemic, maybe because like myself, I was locked out of my lab, in quarantine and we just started.

Calling people up on zoom, who we knew and saying, Hey, do you want to have 100th birthday party for quantum mechanics? And the answer was yes. Yes, we do. 

Everybody who knows quantum mechanics knows how, I would say, important it is or wonderful it is, or fascinating it is, and really wanted to be involved. So that got us to sort of this informal group. And we’re having meetings with people from all over the world, talking about what this might look like.

And then they formed an executive committee, which I’m serving on. And we started calling up, some of those same people and some new people from organizations all over the world, scientific societies in lots of different countries, international scientific unions.

And then there’s a process of how do you get the attention of governments and nation states. And so, fortunately, part of the team was working on this.

So people with experience in this area who know how to navigate that world. And they started talking, making rounds in the diplomatic community, and it was from what they tell me a pretty easy sell, because I think a lot of governments around the world just this time are realizing that Quantum mechanics is a very important thing. The word quantum is used primarily in terms of quantum information technologies, which is where a lot of the energy is, right now. But it’s much broader than that. 

And eventually the steps were to take it to UNESCO, which is the scientific cultural arm of the United Nations.

They have a biannual meeting, that happened last November, and we had 60 or so countries co-sponsoring a resolution to make 2025 the international year of quantum science technology, and that sort of was ratified unanimously.

And now we’re going to the United Nations for that final stamp of approval, which we expect to be done in the next few months. 

Veronica Combs: Oh, wow. Okay.

So who should get involved in this international year of quantum science and technology? 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: The success this year rests on individual people, individual institutions taking the opportunity to do some public outreach and public engagement.

I would say that my hope is that everybody who knows something about quantum knows the importance of quantum takes a minute or an hour or a day to help communicate that to the larger public. 

Taking the time to do that work is going to help make the year a success. So I know the more people who initiate things on their own and look at it as an advertising campaign where anybody can participate. 

The more people and institutions and companies and things like that can take that minute or hour a day to do some of this work, the more activities we’ll have, the more that will spur other people to do things.

And I think the more different stories that we tell and generate, the more different audiences we’ll reach. I think that probably most of the focus is on younger people and like what they’re learning and hearing about quantum.

But it’s important to remember that younger people exist in a larger social and familial ecosystem, right? So, their parents getting the message, their grandparents getting the message, the people in the community getting the message, and everybody understanding oh, yeah, quantum is actually really important.

Really central. That’s the type of thing that we want to communicate through all different means. Maybe that’s about the technology and quantum. Maybe that’s about companies that might be starting and making money and solving problems for the future. Maybe it’s about these historical stories.

Maybe it’s about understanding the natural world better. All those stories are really welcome and it’s a very, it’s a distributed effort so anybody can do what they like under this banner.

We are building up our roster of financial supporters for the year to help get the word out. And that mainly involves the scientific societies. But that will be expanding out to corporations, corporate sponsors. So if people are interested in corporate sponsorship, they can get in touch with us at and we can start that conversation. 

Veronica Combs: When you say outreach, do you have anything specific planned at Bard yet? 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: In addition to trying to coordinate this year, I also do different things at different levels, so I’m actually working with some undergraduates right now, developing an activity for middle school students. So the American Physical Society mails out these physics quest kits to middle school students all over the country, which are kits that have experiments inside them that you can do in about 45 minutes and learn something about some scientific principle at the high school level, I’ve actually been working with this organization CPEP that does posters for classrooms on physics topics, and so they don’t have a quantum poster yet. So we’ve had a team there working on that project.

And then, when I give public talk, I won’t go into technical things at all, but I’ll mostly just try to tell stories, and get people interested and excited about the past and present and future of quantum mechanics. 

Veronica Combs: And one thing that you mentioned when we were talking earlier was the idea of paths into physics or quantum mechanics or industry, I know that you mentioned that was one thing that the group wanted to emphasize was, you know, there’s not just one way to, to work with these ideas, Are there some, plans around that ?

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah, I think that one aspect that we want to combat is this idea that I think a lot of people have, and particularly a lot of young people have, that a career that involves science is like a tightrope you have to walk. And you have to walk on that tightrope while you’re in school. And if you get that C grade in a physics class, then you’ve fallen off the tightrope and there’s no chance for you to get back on it.

And that’s not, that’s just not true. I can speak from experience because I got a C in my high school physics class. There are many different pathways into science and at many different levels, right? You don’t necessarily have to be a Ph.D. in something. And so how do we let people know that?

I think that the best way of doing that is to tell our personal stories. So you mentioned that, you know, I started out more interested in things like philosophy and wanted to do a liberal arts degree, and that wouldn’t be a pathway that anybody would have said you should choose if you want to go into science.

But it was probably only because I did that pathway that I ended up in science, and so I can tell that story and then people can say, oh, that’s a possible pathway. People start telling their stories and that’s a great way of engaging people. Like if you’re wondering, oh, what do I, what, how to explain these things, which might be kind of technical to an audience, I wouldn’t go that route, just say like, explain why you’re excited, right?

Explain that you’re excited about something and explain what your pathway was, because those types of stories, everybody engages with the sort of your origin story, people are interested in that story. 

The more different stories we can tell about the different pathways that people have taken into the sciences, the more people will see, oh yeah, it’s not just a straight line that you can take Turn to the left or to the right or take a break for a while and come back to it.

And these are all possible pathways. It’s not one fixed machine where you insert student at one end of the machine and they come out a scientist at the other end. 

Veronica Combs: Right, right. It’s such a good point. 

There’s lots of global initiatives from various governments who are putting a lot of money toward quantum computing, whether it’s the technology or education, or building the workforce pipeline. I’m always curious what a teacher thinks about the best way to support science education.

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah, I would say that analyzing these national quantum initiatives, which, as you mentioned, like the United States has a national quantum initiative that was passed in 2018 is up for reauthorization now, and then many other, you know, European commission, India passed one, Canada has one, et cetera.

The problem that everybody sees is this workforce issue. 

The structural problem I see with this, the workforce development, is while there’s a lot of money at the end of the pipeline that people might be incentivized by the information flow about quantum mechanics, the importance of quantum mechanics, these, quantum technologies, the promise of the present, the what’s going to potentially happen in the future, that those stories aren’t really getting down to the student level.

What I see now is that everybody realizes that needs to be done, but it’s all being done as kind of pro bono work, right? It’s all being done on the side. So there’s very few people who have a full time job or even a part time job, doing this translation down, for students in the, you know, K through 12 arena, 

So it really becomes more of a lobbying effort, can we make governments understand, or can we make private sector donors understand. The importance of this, for the workforce development issue, and then have, centers and resources behind it, and I’m pleased that in the National quantum, initiative reauthorization act, which has made it out of committee in the House of representatives.

There is now an educational center in or educational hub component of that. Cause I think people are recognizing at the federal level in the U S that, oh yeah, we do need to not just put resources towards research and industry support, but we need specific educational support. 

You know, a student can go K through 12 and not hear the word quantum at all. And that’s the type of thing that I think we need to change over the course of the next few decades.

And this International ear of Quantum initiative is part of an effort to sort of accelerate that process, even the act of going to your local school board meeting and saying, Hey, I hear there’s this International Year of Quantum, like what is the school doing about that? 

Veronica Combs: Yes. Well, now I have another reason to go to my local school board meeting.

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah. Yeah. And I think foregrounding for me, there’s a tendency sometimes when scientists talk to students of walking into the room as, okay, I’m the expert and I’m going to try to teach you something, but particularly for these type of outreach activities, I think it’s more important to foreground.

Like, you know what? I’m excited about this, but I don’t understand it yet. I, we haven’t solved the problems. We need help. If you think about any children’s story, where there’s kind of a magical world, there’s often like the sort of old wizard who is a guide into that world, but the hero is the young person who doesn’t know anything about that.

And we need to make sure that it’s the young people who realize that they’re going to be the heroes of the story and we can teach them something. But we need to give them that first little spark of invitation into this magical world. 

Veronica Combs: Yes, that’s so true. That’s so true. 

And I think some of these problems that we’re facing right now, it seems so huge and so insurmountable. And, and the idea that, you know, quantum technology or quantum research could help solve some of our climate solutions, or at least crunch more of the data that we can’t get through right now.

I think that is a really powerful hook for young people to think that there’s something new that you can help with that could potentially solve a really big problem. 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah. And I think that’s, that the excitement is that different people are going to be attracted by different types of problems, right?

I mean, there are some people out there who, the medical problems and, solving diseases and things like that is something that drives them. And there’s other people who might be interested in an energy type problem. And that’s what drives them. And again, there’s some people who just want to understand more about the world around them.

And I think that while there’s a sort of utilitarian aspect of quantum mechanics, that is a really important part of the story. Just the, oh, we as humanity have a better understanding of the world around us. Part of the story is an important one to tell. And in the sort of circuitous path that people take to in their lives and in their careers, very often people start out just asking those broader questions.

They’re not necessarily like, oh, I want to find a job in this or I want to solve this problem, but they just want to understand more about the world around them. And then after having done that, they realized, Oh, without understanding, I can solve this problem that I actually care about now. So people move between these sort of like more scientific understanding, understanding the world around the tech questions to the sort of practical and industrial types of questions that quantum could help with as well.

And people go back and forth the other way too.

Veronica Combs: Yes, definitely. So Quantum2025.Org is the website. And you said that there’s an information email there that people can use to contact you 

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Yeah, it’s, it’s even easier than that, which is if you can remember two things, number one, quantum and number two, next year, 2025, if you Google quantum 2025, it’s the first thing that comes up.

So that’s one way to find the website. The email address is at the bottom for all inquiries. 

Veronica Combs: Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time today and getting us up to speed on the international year of quantum science and technology. And we’ll definitely be on the lookout for ways we can help and events during the year.

Paul Cadden-Zimansky: Thanks Veronica. It was great to talk to you.

Host Veronica Combs is a quantum tech editor, writer and PR professional. She manages public relations for quantum computing and tech clients as an account manager with HKA Marketing Communications, the #1 agency in quantum tech PR. You can find them on X, formerly known as Twitter, @HKA_PR. Veronica joined HKA from TechRepublic, where she was a senior writer. She has covered technology, healthcare and business strategy for more than 10 years. If you’d like to be on the podcast yourself, you can reach her on LinkedIn, Veronica Combs, or you can go to the HKA website and share your suggestion via the Contact Us page.

April 15, 2024