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Why 'Quantum Leap'? Creator explains where hit sci-fi series with Scott Bakula got its title

It's more rooted in actual science than you might think.

Quantum Leap GETTY IMAGES

The phrase "Quantum Leap" may sound like a bit of phony science concocted for one of the Ant-Man films, but it is does have an actual basis in the realm of physics-related academia. It refers to the real-world phenomenon in which an electron suddenly moves between different levels of energy. The existence of quantum leaps was proven in 1986 by scientists using extreme temperature controls to slow down and speed up atoms in an effort to observe the anomaly.

"The atom is in one state and moves to another, and you can't picture what it is in between, so you call this a quantum jump," Columbia physicist and quantum leap theorist I.I. Rabi told The New York Times. "In quantum mechanics, you don't ask what's the intermediate state because there ain't no intermediate state. It passes from one to the other in God's mysterious way."

Donald P. Bellisario used the term for his own creative ends while creating a TV series in which a physicist inadvertently finds himself moving between different bodies and time periods. That series, of course, turned out to be Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. "I was reading a book called Coming of Age in the Milky Way [written by Timothy Ferris] and it gave the history of everything," Bellisario explained to SYFY WIRE in 2019. "The quantum leap is a physical thing that happens you can't explain."

Episodes of Quantum Leap are currently airing Fridays on SYFY as part of SYFY Rewind. Click here for scheduling information.

The same year the creator explained the origin of the show's title, an experiment conducted by graduate students at Yale University proved that quantum leaps don't occur as fast as scientists previously theorized. "If we can measure a quantum jump fast and efficiently enough, it is actually a continuous process," supervising professor Michel Devoret said at the time while speaking to the aptly-named Quanta Magazine.

Learn more about the history of Quantum Leap in the video below:

NBC is currently working on a modern-day reboot of Quantum LeapProdigal Son's Raymond Lee will step into the lead role of respected physicist, Dr. Ben Seong. Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Nanrisa Lee (Bosch), Mason Alexander Park (Cowboy Bebop) and newcomer Caitlin Bassett co-star.

Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt (co-creators of God Friended Me and current producers on La Brea) are writing and executive producing the pilot episode. Lilien and Wynbrandt are also co-showrunners. Bellisario is an executive producer alongside Deborah Pratt (writer, producer, and narrator for the original series) and Martin Gero (Blindspot).

“I think they captured, first of all, the fact that Raymond Lee who is South Korean is playing Doctor Seong [...] I think that that’s a huge step forward that will bring in more global storylines," Pratt recently teased. "But again, I can’t tell you his backstory and all that kind of stuff. But the episode is a true Quantum Leap episode, and it’s an homage to the series in that sense. The characters that they have created for the show, I feel like are strong and interesting."

Episodes of Quantum Leap are currently airing Fridays on SYFY as part of SYFY Rewind. Click here for scheduling information.

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