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The Physics of Impossible Things

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Some things can happen in our Universe, and others cannot. The laws of physics establish the boundary between possibility and impossibility. Physicists naturally spend most of their time thinking about the possible. In this lecture, however, we will make a brief reconnaissance across the frontier to study impossible things and discover the surprising connections between them. We will encounter standard science-fiction devices like time machines and faster-than-light spaceships -- as well as other, less-familiar prodigies including quantum cloners and bounded electromagnetic miracles. A safe return to the real world is unconditionally guaranteed.

Benjamin Schumacher is Professor of Physics at Kenyon College, where he has taught for twenty years. He was an undergraduate at Hendrix College and received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1990, where he was the last doctoral student of John Archibald Wheeler.

As one of the founders of quantum information theory, Professor Schumacher introduced the term qubit, invented quantum data compression (also known as Schumacher compression), and established several fundamental results about the information capacity of quantum systems. For his contributions he won the 2002 Quantum Communication Award, the premier international prize in the field, and was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Besides his interest in quantum information theory, Dr. Schumacher has contributed to other areas involving black holes, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. He is the author of numerous scientific papers and a textbook, Physics in Spacetime: An introduction to special relativity.

Professor Schumacher has been a visitor at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Institute for Quantum Information at Caltech (where he was a Moore Distinguished Scholar), the Isaac Newton Institute of Cambridge University, the Santa Fe Institute, Perimeter Institute and the Universities of New Mexico, Montreal, Innsbruck and Queensland. At Kenyon College, Professor Schumacher teaches physics, but he also regularly ventures into astronomy, mathematics, scientific computing and the humanities.