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‘If You Can’t Explain It to a Six-Year-Old…’
Communicating Quantum Physics to Children

Kanta Dihal  

If communicating the concepts of quantum physics to adults proves a struggle, how could a children's book approach the topic? Children's popularizations of science are known for the inclusion of practical, tangible experiments which children can perform themselves, an approach that dramatically increases the affective bond with the child. In works on quantum physics, however, it becomes much more difficult to create experiments that can be performed by children, with safe tools that can be found at home. In children's books that cover quantum physics, such experiments are to a large extent abandoned in favour of a science fiction-like or fantastical story that excludes the reader as an active agent: examples are Lucy and Stephen Hawking's George series (2009-2016), Russell Stannard's Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest (2005), and Robert Gilmore's Alice in Quantumland (1995). The fictional and the fantastical are used extendedly in all of these works, to the point where science and fiction are no longer distinguishable, turning the work into a 'scientific fantasy'. Too often, studies of literature and science (Sleigh, Clarke and Rossini, Willis) or of science fiction (Latham, Bould et al, Garnett and Ellis, Roberts) omit works for children. This paper, which is part of the author's doctoral research project (2014-2017), will address this gap, looking at the communication of quantum physics to children via two genres, science fiction and popularization, and the ways in which a crossover between the two can be made in order to communicate the concepts from modern physics. Where Melanie Keene in Science in Wonderland (2015) discussed the use of fantasy elements in science writing for children to show that science was stranger and more amazing than fiction, I will show to what extent this discourse continued to be used in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

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