The BioShock games have a history of weaving real science into their narratives. Take, for example, the floating city of Columbia in BioShock Infinite, which is inspired by the concept of “quantum levitation” — a very real physical phenomenon.
Sure, in the game, physicist Rosalind Lutece (whose discoveries and work with the Lutece Particle led to the creation of the hovering dystopia) doesn’t like the term quantum levitation, but since she’s not here to correct us, we’re going to use it anyway.
Quantum levitation describes the phenomenon by which an object is locked in three-dimensional space through the use of magnets and superconductors. Thanks to the Meissner effect (which refers to the way in which superconductors expel magnetic fields), a super-cooled superconductor can “levitate” above a magnet, quantum-locked in space.
Tel Aviv University researcher Boaz Almog, Ph.D. explains that in quantum levitation, the strands of the magnetic field are trapped inside of the superconductor, where they behave like quantum particles. As the superconductor locks the magnetic fields in place, it locks itself in place, too. Even along a track, as Almog demonstrates in his viral TED talk, a quantum-locked superconductor will remain firmly in place, even as it’s given a nudge.
With a whole lot of crazy (and we mean crazy) strong magnets and superconductors that are cooled to the right temperature, a floating city, just as in BioShock Infinite, would theoretically be possible. We’d just have to find superconductors capable of bearing the weight of the buildings and portions of the cities that we see in the game, along with magnets strong enough to lock the city in place thousands of feet in the air. It’s a tall and improbable order, but the concept behind it is sound.
Quantum levitation isn’t the only application of quantum mechanics in BioShock Infinite. We also see quantum theory crop up in the discussion of Elizabeth’s tears and other universes, as multiverse theory is a big part of quantum theory. But the game’s use of quantum levitation is definitely one of the coolest applications of a real-world, observable concepts in quantum theory.
BioShock: The Collection is out this Friday, September 16 on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Windows.
Photos via 2K Games / Irrational Games