A new performance that explores the world of quantum physics will feature the music of the Jupiter String Quartet, a fire juggler and a fantastical “Alice in Quantumland” scene.
“Quantum Rhapsodies,” the vision of physics professor Smitha Vishveshwara, looks at the foundational developments in quantum physics, the role it plays in our world and in technology such as the MRI, and the quantum mysteries that remain unanswered.
“The quantum world is a world that inspires awe, but it’s also who we are and what we are made of,” said Vishveshwara, who wrote the piece and guided the visuals.
The performance will premiere April 10 as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The event begins with a 5 p.m. reception, followed by the performance at 6 p.m. and a meet-and-greet with the show’s creators at 7 p.m. The performance will be in the atrium of the Beckman Institute, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, and it is free and open to the public. While the available seating is filling up, the atrium space will allow for an immersive experience in spite of potentially restricted viewing.
The production is a sister piece to “Quantum Voyages,” a performance created in 2018 by Vishveshwara and theatre professor Latrelle Bright to illustrate the basic concepts of quantum physics. It was performed at a quantum physics conference celebrating Nobel Prize-winning physicist Anthony Leggett’s 80th birthday in 2018.
While “Quantum Voyages” was a live theater piece, “Quantum Rhapsodies” combines narration by Bright, video images and live music from the Jupiter String Quartet. It ponders the wonder of the cosmos, the nature of light and matter, and the revolutionary ideas of quantum physics. A central part of the narrative involves the theory of Nobel Prize-winning French physicist Louis de Broglie that matter, like light, can behave as a wave.
The visuals – a blend of still images, video and animation – were created by a team consisting of the Beckman Visualization Laboratory; Steven Drake, a video producer at Beckman; filmmaker Nic Morse of Protagonist Pizza Productions; and members of a class Vishveshwara teaches, Where the Arts Meet Physics.
The biggest challenge in illustrating the ideas in the script was conveying the scope of the piece, from the galactic scale of the cosmos to the subatomic scale of the quantum world, Drake said. The concepts of quantum physics “are not something you can see. It’s theoretical or so small you can’t put it under a microscope or go out into the real world and film it,” he said.
Much of the work involved finding images, both scientific and artistic, that would help illustrate the concepts of the piece and complement the poetic language that Vishveshwara used, as well as the music.
Students and teaching assistant Danielle Markovich from Vishveshwara’s class contributed scientific images and original paintings. Drake used satellite images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites, as well as animation created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in its work with NASA, for portions of the script talking about the cosmos. The Visualization Laboratory provided novel scientific visualizations.
“What we’re good at doing and have done for years is taking research content and theories and visualizing that information. We do that for a very wide variety of research and data. We’re good at coming up with images that represent these invisible worlds, like quantum physics,” said Travis Ross, the director of the lab.
Some ideas required conceptual images, such as footage by Morse of a fire juggler at Allerton Park to represent light and of hands moving to depict the rotational behavior of water-based hydrogen within a person in an MRI machine.
Motion was incorporated into a painting of a lake to show water rippling and light flickering across it to illustrate light waves. In the “Alice in Quantumland” sequence, a Mad Hatter’s tea party filmed at the Illini Union was blended with cartoonlike animated elements into the fantasy sequence by Jose Vazquez, an illustrator and concept artist who works in the Visualization Lab.
“Our main objective is making sure we’re representing it in a believable way that’s also fun and engaging,” Ross said. “We’ve never done anything quite like this. It’s pretty unique.”
In addition to performing the score, members of the Jupiter String Quartet were the musical directors, creating the musical narrative to mesh with the script. The music includes contemplative compositions by Beethoven to evoke the cosmos and playful modern compositions that summon images of the movements of particles and waves.
“I was working with such talented people and creative minds, and we had fun and came up with these seemingly absurd ideas. But then again, it’s like that with the quantum world as well,” Vishveshwara said.
“My hope is not necessarily for people to understand everything, but to infuse curiosity and to feel the grandness and the beauty that is part of who we are and the cosmos that we live in,” she said.
The original Illini News Bureau article can be found here.