Quantum physics, art and music meet at Entangled celebration in Belfast

16 February 2018

IOP brought quantum physics, art and music together in a unique event at the start of the NI Science Festival in Belfast on 15 February with the performance of a specially commissioned piece combining music, electronics and film preceded by a lecture on quantum entanglement.

Quantum physics, art and music meet at Entangled celebration in Belfast
Quantum physics, art and music meet at Entangled celebration in Belfast

To explore and celebrate the profound contribution to quantum entanglement by outstanding Belfast physicist Professor John Stewart Bell, IOP commissioned electro-acoustic composer Matthew Whiteside to write Entangled, a new piece for string quartet, electronics and film. It was performed by the Aurea Quartet with a film by Marisa Zanotti and the event included physics-inspired music including Fratres by Arvo Part, Satellites by Gareth Knox, Her Own Dying Moments by John Uren and Opus 64 No.6 by Haydn.

Quantum physics, art and music meet at Entangled celebration in Belfast

In the first part of the evening, which included the première of Entangled, the annual IOP John Bell Lecture was given by Professor Winfried Hensinger of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies (pictured), who spoke on Constructing a Trapped Ion Quantum Computer. His accessible talk looked at the applications of quantum entanglement and together with the performances was delivered to an appreciative audience in a sold-out event at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.

The reception at the event was sponsored by Belfast company Andor Technology, which developed the camera used by Professor Anton Zeilinger’s research group in Austria to first visualise quantum entanglement. In a separate connection, composer Matthew Whiteside is the great-nephew of John Bell.

Dr Sheila Gilheany, IOP in Ireland’s Policy Adviser, said: “Entangled allowed us to experience deep connections in music, art and physics. This was matched by the buzz during the reception as the very diverse audience found plenty of common ground.”

Dr Liz Conlon, IOP Education and Outreach Adviser in Northern Ireland, said: “Our Entangled event reflected the founding aims of the NI Science Festival – bringing science and the arts together to inform our citizens of science going on locally and beyond. It was truly breaking new ground for the festival with an audience of physicists, artists and the public coming together to explore the quantum world.”

Quantum physics, art and music meet at Entangled celebration in Belfast

The festival first came about through a chance meeting between Liz (pictured left) and Chris McCreery, then Chair of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, while Liz was physics busking (using everday objects to demonstrate physics concepts) in Dublin for the Institute. Both bemoaned the lack of a science festival in the north of Ireland and they decided to pursue the idea of setting one up, spending a year seeking funding and developing partnerships.

Local science organisations were keen and the then Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, backed the festival generously and Belfast City Council gave its support, while a board was established with a number of arts personnel to help with delivery and accessibility.

The development of the festival was also a core part of Liz’s remit in her role for the Institute and its aims were closely aligned with those of IOP, “interweaving an awareness of physics into society in a way that will have a lasting and positive effect throughout Northern Ireland”, she said.

The first festival took place with 100 events and an audience of 50,000 attending. Since then, the events have almost doubled to 200 and attendance had grown to around 75,000 last year. Liz said: “My goal is to build on this success to bring physics to the under-served sector – in particular community groups in disadvantaged areas – to embed physics in their lives.”

This year’s festival continues until 25 February and IOP is involved in several other events, including physics busking at the Ulster Museum on 24 February and at St George’s Market, Belfast on 25 February.

The IOP in Ireland is also partnering with Sense about Science to run a panel discussion on “Post-Truth” and Science, at the Ulster Museum on 22 February, led by Jonathan McCreaof the radio station Newstalk. Discussing whether we are really in a world where the public doesn’t care about evidence will be Anthony Warner – The Angry Chef, Dr Leah Fitzsimmons, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, and Dr Chris Peters of Sense about Science.

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