Backstory: A Future with Fortran

A Q&A with Lily Turaski, winner of the People's Choice prize
Read the story first: A Future with Fortran


Congratulations on winning the People's Choice prize. How do you feel about receiving awards in your second Quantum Shorts competition running?
It is fun to write for the Quantum Shorts competition, so I enjoy creating my submissions regardless of the contest’s result. That being said, I am both ecstatic and honored to have received the People’s Choice award for both 2015 and 2017. I definitely squealed and jumped when I first heard the news. And I am thankful for the support of everyone who voted for me!
Where did you get the idea for 'A future with Fortran'?

Like all good stories, ‘A Future with Fortran’ starts from a kernel of truth. Granny is based on my real-life Nana, who is my kindred spirit (and one of my biggest supporters). Nana and I ride horses together, and she taught me how to play the piano and drive a tractor. She met her current sweetie using online dating, and within our family his official nickname really is “Fortran Man.” Nana also worked at a national lab, where as far as I know she did NOT invent time travel (although come to think of it, I only know vague details about the projects she worked on… hmm). With this as my story’s basis, the rest of the essay flowed naturally.
Have you learned Fortran programming (and if so, why)?

I have not personally used Fortran programming, but in high school I took a course in Python, and I am currently taking a course in Matlab. My Matlab professor teaches computer science in a very hands-on way, which makes it one of my favorite classes. He explained the concept of loops by having students juggle tennis balls, and he taught indexing of cell arrays using balloons and chocolate bars (I was one of the lucky volunteers that day!). One of my friends at Georgia Tech predicts that Fortran is about to have a comeback as a powerful programming tool!
What kind of research did you do to inform your writing?

I took a physics class last semester, and, around the time I wrote my essay, we used Maxwell’s equations to calculate the speed of light and discussed the implications of a limiting speed on the universe. I also knew about tachyons from studying particle physics in preparation for the science bowl competition in high school.
In your entry in 2015, you wrote about college acceptance letters. Now you're at Georgia Tech. What made you choose this school and Materials Science Engineering?

Materials Science Engineering (MSE) combines my loves of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Georgia Tech has a fantastic program for MSE, providing many MSE-specific opportunities for undergraduates, such as research scholarships, mentoring from industry professionals, and the student-run Materials Innovation Learning Laboratory (where I lead tours for the outreach team). My decision was also influenced by receiving the Stamps President’s Scholarship to attend Georgia Tech, which completely covers the cost of attendance, as well as providing me with a community of other scholars from whom I can learn and grow. I am thankful for the opportunity provided by this scholarship, and I am so happy I came to Georgia Tech.
What do you hope to do in the future?
In the future, I would like to attend graduate school in MSE and pursue a career either in a research lab (such as Oak Ridge National Lab) or as a research professor. I am especially interested in the development of new materials for solar cells to make them more efficient and economical. Because most sustainable energy technologies have low operating efficiencies, successful implementation of green energy is a very important issue facing our world today. I have already gotten a head start toward my goal- I was selected for the 2018 MSE Research Scholars Program, through which I am studying 3D solar cells with Dr. Jud Ready at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. I am excited to participate in this program!
Do you have other writing or science projects you'd like to tell us about?

I just submitted some poetry with mathematical flair (fingers crossed that it is accepted for publication). Writing poetry is like crossing into another dimension after writing essays!
Have you read any science-inspired books recently that you would recommend to others? What did you like about them?

I am currently reading the Three Body trilogy by Cixin Liu. The first book, The Three Body Problem, includes entertaining references to famous scientists of the past; for example, in one scene Newton and Leibniz duel each other. In my favorite scene, John von Neumann invents a computer powered by 13 million soldiers, where logic gates are built by soldiers trained to raise white and black flags corresponding to the ‘0’ and ‘1’ outputs of traditional transistors. Toward the end, there is a really cool bit of quantum sci-fi relating to superstring theory, but I don’t want to give away too much!
This year's contest required all stories to use a line from your 2015 entry "There are only two possibilities: yes or no". You wrote in your submission bio that you were "thrilled to have her superposition sentence emulated in so many alternate realities in the entries of Quantum Shorts 2017". Did you have a favourite story (or stories) among this year's submissions? 

I loved reading this year’s submissions - there are so many aspects of quantum science reflected in the entries. I especially enjoy whimsical, happy-ending essays like “Multiverse Meetup” or “Where Thought Experiments Become Reality” or essays that have a surprise ending like “Acceptable Loss.” I look forward to the next installment of the Quantum Shorts competition!