Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Gravitys Rainbow

Talk to a physicist, and you always step into a different dimension. Unwittingly so. Its like diving into clear water and then seeing the stars. The light at first can be blinding, because the accuracy of their vision can be so acute. But then you adjust, dive deeper with them, and discover new vistas. The deep blue has never been more meaning-full.

So I find myself in a room with the man who is writing a paper which is about to change astrophysics. Everyone is standing by for his genius. But no. His bright lazer mind is switched onto other things. We are no longer in a room. We are notes on a musical score. He tells me how 10 years ago he finally learnt the piano. Now he can play Beethoven and it just tumbles out of his mind onto his fingers. You can almost sense he is listening to it, or indeed playing it when he tells me this, his love of this musical dimension is so intense. He tells me also that the way he learns the piece is by diving into it through its harmonic structure. That with the analytical mind of a physicist, he sees the patterns, engages with the harmonies, and totally understands every single note, the why and wherefore of its individual placing. And thus it becomes part of him. So much so, that when trapped in a boring meeting, he seeks refuge by playing a complex sonata in his head and his mind is elsewhere as the patterns rotate and spin.

But switch it all around the other way, and ask him
if music has changed his approach to physics, and he says, it soothes me. He uses it for pleasure. No more, no less. The beauty is the other way round - the way physics makes him approach music with his head, and then his heart comes into play too.

Somehow, at the end of our conversation which was really about something quite other - about Collide, the International Artists Residency Programme I am devising for CERN - it seems totally fitting that Luis volunteers himself for my Radio 3 piece to be a graviton. He of all people will understand the beauty of gravity. He has a levity and gravity which is totally beyond. That of a rainbow.

* Definition of a graviton. The graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravity in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless (because the gravitational force has unlimited range) and must have a spin of 2 (because the source of gravity is the stress-energy tensor, which is a second-rank tensor, compared to electromagnetism, the source of which is the four-current, which is a first-rank tensor). To prove the existence of the graviton, physicists must be able to link the particle to the curvature of the space-time continuum and calculate the gravitational force exerted.

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