Research News

Q & A: Understanding Quantum Potential

Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad, Distinguished Research Professor of Communication of Science and Technology and creator of Vanderbilt’s Quantum Potential series, talked to Vanderbilt Magazine about this groundbreaking project, described as a collection of wild but precise portraits of the scholars, scientists and students at Vanderbilt who are finding new ways to understand the world—and change it.

What sparked your idea for Quantum Potential, and how did the name come about?

The idea for Quantum Potential started when I joined the Vanderbilt community [in April 2022]. I had been working in radio and podcasts for two decades, including shows like Radiolab. When I came to campus, I was blown away by the caliber of individuals I encountered. They were not just smart; they had the potential to change the world. This led to the name “Quantum Potential,” symbolizing the infinite possibilities that each researcher at Vanderbilt holds. It’s like the quantum foam that some cosmologists think gave birth to the universe, where any one of them could pop off the surface and create a new world.

What drew you to Vanderbilt in the first place?

My connection to Vanderbilt goes beyond my upbringing in Nashville. I saw it as an opportunity to chart a new course in my work. After years in radio and podcasting, I wanted to experiment with new forms and spaces to make a positive impact. Starting a media lab at the McGee Applied Research Center for Narrative Studies was part of this exploration. Vanderbilt provided an ideal environment for this fresh start.

What are the goals of Quantum Potential, and what makes Vanderbilt uniquely suited for achieving them?

The primary goal of Quantum Potential is to introduce the world to remarkable individuals whose work has the potential to shape our future. We also aim to shed light on the vital role of research institutions like Vanderbilt in fostering basic knowledge and unconventional thinking. Vanderbilt stands out due to its emphasis on collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking. It’s a place where boundaries between fields are blurred and entrepreneurship is encouraged, making it a fertile ground for innovative ideas.

What surprised you the most during your journey creating and producing Quantum Potential?

I was surprised by the diverse motivations driving the faculty members I encountered. Their unconventional sources of inspiration added depth to their work. Equally astonishing was the remarkable caliber of students at Vanderbilt, who were deeply engaged in groundbreaking research and critical thinking. My journey also exposed me to the world of video storytelling, which was new and enlightening for me, thanks to my collaboration with talented video artists Mac Premo, Adrianna Dufay and their team.

What’s one idea you want people to take away from watching the series?

I hope viewers embrace the idea that incredible things happen when you think beyond the boundaries of your expertise. Quantum Potential showcases individuals who think across disciplines, resulting in a richer and more interconnected world. The series encourages us to cultivate flexible minds capable of bridging different fields and ideas.

Quantum Potential is not just a series; it’s a testament to the power of curiosity, collaboration and thinking beyond traditional boundaries. Vanderbilt University serves as the perfect backdrop for this exploration, fostering an environment where ideas have the potential to change the world. As we venture into the future, I hope people remember that the most beautiful ideas often exist in the spaces between disciplines, waiting to be discovered by those with the courage to explore.